The snack table in the office is looking distinctly bare, post-Christmas. Throughout December, it was piled high with boxes of posh biscuits, mince pies, and even brandy butter, but you’d be lucky to find a stale crumb this week. I’m still enough in the Christmas state of mind for three meals a day to not be quite enough, so it’s normally good to know that there’s a sweet treat to snack on. Something must be done.

My answer to the crisis is Nigel Slater’s iced marmalade loaf cake. It’s a very quick mixture to whip up in the evening, but the marmalade in the mixture adds interest and the drizzled icing makes it all a bit more special. I follow Nigel’s advice and add a drop of orange flower water to the icing too, but as long as you’ve got a jar of marmalade in the fridge and can pick up an orange on the way home you can probably make this cake without a special shopping trip.

A frosted marmalade cake (adapted from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater)

175g soft unsalted butter
175 golden caster sugar (it’s not a disaster if you only have the white stuff in the cupboard)
A large orange
3 large eggs
75g orange marmalade
175g self-raising flour

For the frosting:
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp orange juice (from the orange whose zest you’ll use in the cake mixture)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Line a loaf tin about 25 x 11cm, 7cm deep (mine’s shorter than this, about 21 x 9cm, but seems to work fine if the cake has a little longer in the oven; see step 6) – butter the tin lightly, then line with baking parchment.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with a hand-held mixer until pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Pour in the beaten egg a little at a time, with the mixer running, beating well after each addition.
  4. Finely grate the orange zest, and beat it into the cake mixture along with the marmalade.
  5. Fold in the flour gently with a metal spoon, working carefully but making sure that it’s all well combined. Gently stir in the juice of half the orange.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top lightly and bake in the preheated oven for 35–45 minutes. Check the cake after 35 minutes by inserting a metal skewer and checking that it comes out cleanly, not covered with raw mixture. I don’t know if it’s my oven or the size of my tin, but the cake was perfectly golden on top after 35 minutes but still a bit uncooked within. I covered the top lightly with a piece of foil at this stage and gave it another 20 minutes in the oven to cook through, checking it a couple of times.
  7. When it’s cooked, let the cake cool a little in the tin before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the baking parchment once cooled.
  8. Make the icing by sifting the icing sugar and mixing it with the juice from the remaining orange half, adding a splash of orange flower water if you have it. Drizzle the icing over the cake, letting it drip down the sides, and leave to set before scoffing it down.


Embarrassingly, a creamy, mild korma has always been my favourite curry. I know it has a reputation as a dish for people who don’t really like curry, and I suspect that my love of it has a lot to do with the cream content, dairy enthusiast that I am, but I maintain that a good korma, delicately spiced, is a thing of beauty and not a cop-out.

I’ve never made a korma from scratch before, but Nigel Slater’s recipes are generally very reliable so this root vegetable korma recipe from Tender: Vol. 1 seemed as good a place to start as any. None of the spices it includes are outlandish or difficult to track down, and it’s a great use of seasonal root vegetables. You could use a more varied mix of veg than I did, depending on what you can get hold of without too much hassle; Nigel recommends a mixture of swede and Jerusalem artichokes to make up 1.5kg along with the carrots and parsnips. Try throwing in some potatoes, butternut squash or pumpkin, or sweet potatoes for a change, but sweet potatoes won’t need to be cooked for as long as the other vegetables so just add them for the last 20 minutes or so.

The finished result was a little on the saucy side so I’d recommend removing the lid from the pan for at least some of the time in step 4. Nigel reckons you can have this curry on the table in an hour, but allow an hour and a half from start to finish as there’s a bit of veg prep to do, as well as grinding the spices.

A root vegetable korma (adapted from Tender: Vol 1 by Nigel Slater)

2 medium onions
A fat, thumb-sized piece of ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1.5kg root veg –
a mixture of parsnip, swede, carrots, and Jerusalem artichokes
100g cashews
6 green cardamom pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 tsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil, or butter
2 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
a cinnamon stick
2 smallish green chillies, depending on their heat, thinly sliced
150ml single or double cream
150g thick natural yoghurt
fresh coriander, chopped

  1. Peel the onions, cut them into large pieces, then pulse in a food processor till roughly minced (not puréed). Peel and roughly grate the ginger, then peel and finely slice the garlic cloves. Peel and coarsely chop the vegetables. Roughly chop half of the cashews (the quickest way of doing this is to blitz them very quickly in a food processor).
  2. Now deal with the spices: crush the seeds from the cardamom pods to a gritty powder in a pestle and mortar. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds to a fine powder – ideally in a spice grinder, as you’re not likely to get a fine powder using a pestle and mortar.
  3. Put the oil or butter into a deep, heavy-bottomed pan and stir in the onions, letting them soften but not colour. Stir in the ginger and garlic, cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes, then add the spices – cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder and the cinnamon stick. Continue cooking, stirring for a couple of minutes, until the spices become fragrant, then add the chopped vegetables and the chopped nuts. Season with the green chillies, salt and black pepper.
  4. Stir in 750ml water, partially cover with a lid and leave to simmer gently for forty-five to fifty minutes, till the roots are tender to the point of a knife. Keep an eye on the pan, stirring occasionally, and if it’s still looking watery towards the end of this time then leave the lid off for a bit to reduce the sauce down a bit. Toast the reserved whole cashews.
  5. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the cream and yoghurt. Put the pan back on a gentle heat to warm through without boiling. Should the mixture boil, it will curdle, and though the flavour will be fine the texture will be grainy. Check the seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if necessary. Scatter over the toasted cashews and some chopped coriander, and serve with rice or naan bread.

I suppose I should admit that although I have been cooking plenty of things from the new Ottolenghi book (see ‘A Woman with a Plan’, below), finding the time to write about them has been more of a challenge. I really need to get back into the habit; it doesn’t help that my camera’s broken.

Anyway, I accidentally had a dinner party last night. It wasn’t in my usual style, which involves planning for weeks and keeping the night before free for cooking (and the night before that for shopping). Finding myself in possession of some actual ingredients, for a change, and with my friend Claire coming round to join Paul and me for the France/Uruguay match and a bite to eat, I decided to whip up some spaghetti with homemade pesto, followed by Nigel Slater’s hot chocolate puddings. It might have been nutritionally deficient – although doesn’t basil count as one of your ‘five a day’? It’s green, after all – but it did the job.

I usually make pesto by blitzing the ingredients in my mini food-processor, but Paul gets great results following Jamie Oliver’s advice from The Naked Chef: bashing it all up in a pestle and mortar is the way to get the best flavour from the basil, apparently. Jamie recommends a quarter clove of garlic, chopped (although I used a whole small clove), bashed up with three good handfuls of fresh basil. You’d be amazed how quickly the leaves reduce down to almost nothing when pounded… I think I’d make a double quantity next time. Next, add a handful of lightly toasted pine nuts, and continue to bash. (This is when you realise that your pestle and mortar is entirely inadequate in size.) A good handful of grated Parmesan goes in next, with enough olive oil to bind the sauce, and then seasoning. I know I should be using vegetarian Parmesan, by the way, but cheese has always been the weak point in my otherwise pretty strict vegetarianism. I really should look into the vegetarian Parmesan alternatives. I’m not a giant hypocrite, honest.

Tossed with hot spaghetti, the pesto made quite a tasty supper. For me, the downside of bashing rather than blitzing is that the basil leaves are wilted but stay almost intact rather than being chopped to a pulp, so the basil bit of the sauce doesn’t coat every strand of pasta as a more conventionally made pesto would. Still nice, though.

As more beer was drunk, a pudding seemed more and more necessary. Nigel Slater’s hot chocolate puddings (from The Kitchen Diaries) have been a favourite of mine for a few years now – it seems such a luxurious treat to have a hot chocolate pudding, but it really doesn’t take many ingredients or much time to make them. With dark chocolate (it’s worth going for the best you can get – I made up the total with Green & Black’s and some M&S Easter chocolate I still had in the house, for some reason), eggs, caster sugar, butter, and a drop of chocolate hazelnut spread, along with maybe half an hour maximum, you’re all done. Yum. The recipe serves four, which gave me the perfect excuse to have one for breakfast.

In spite of my ever-increasing cookbook collection, there are recipes that I return to again and again. These include dishes that can be thrown together from the staples I can always find in the cupboard (like Jo Pratt’s spicy chickpea stew from In The Mood For Food), as well as those which are so reliably delicious that it’s always worth a special trip to the supermarket for the ingredients, like the Syrian fattoush from Moro East. On Tuesday night, I revisited two old favourites: Ottolenghi’s chickpeas and spinach with honeyed sweet potato, and Nigel Slater’s blueberry and pear cake (without the pears).

I’m a big fan of Ottolenghi’s inventive and tasty vegetarian recipes, and this is no exception. The sweet potato is cooked in honey, butter, and water until meltingly tender and sweet, just holding its shape, and is served on a chickpea, spinach and tomato stew spiced with coriander seeds and cumin. For me, what lifts Ottolenghi’s dishes above your everyday thrown-together post-work dinner is his use of sauces and herbs to add freshness and zing to even the richest of comfort foods. In this case, yoghurt is whisked together with olive oil, dried mint, crushed garlic, and the juice and zest of a lemon before being spooned over the finished dish and topped with fresh coriander leaves.

Nigel Slater’s cake recipe, based on a classic equal flour-butter-sugar mixture, is the perfect vehicle for almost any berries you might have. Quick to make (although requiring 55 minutes in the oven), the basic mixture can be whipped up in a matter of minutes before going into the oven, topped with the berries and 2 tbsp of caster sugar for a slightly crisp top. As Nigel says himself, “it’s hard to imagine a cake that is easier to make”. I’ve had the most luck with blueberries or cherries – strawberries were an unsuccessful experiment – and the cake could easily be served warm with cream for a proper pudding. I like it with some thick Greek yoghurt, ideally followed by some fresh mint tea and an early night.

As much as I’d like to pretend that I have to be bullied and cajoled into baking cakes, it is pretty much my favourite pastime. The more I do it, the more addictive it gets, and the more confident I’m becoming, at least when it comes to my favourite tried-and-tested recipes.

It’s been a weekend of celebrations, with a wedding on Saturday and an engagement party on Sunday. The wedding cake was the best ever: a three-tiered Sachertorte (for an Austro-English wedding) covered in white chocolate curls. I’m most definitely not up to the challenge of making a wedding cake, especially since I’m somewhat cack-handed with decorations, but I did agree to bake a contribution for Adam and Regine’s engagement party on Sunday. I say ‘agree’, but in reality they would have had a hard time stopping me. But baking for such a discerning foodie couple, the pressure was on…

I wanted to make something with a bit of a summery feel to it, so I turned to my all-time favourite cookery book, Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries, for inspiration, and chose his lemon-frosted pistachio cake. The main bulk is made up with equal quantities of ground pistachios and ground almonds, with only 60g of plain flour, so it’s a dense, nutty cake. The requisite 250g of butter keep it moist and melt-in-the-mouth, and there’s a floral touch with a hint of rosewater. To decorate, the lovely Mr Slater recommends a topping of icing sugar made up with lemon juice rather than water, scattered with crystallised rose petals and shelled pistachios. All was going well until I realised that the rose petals I had looked like tiny shards of pink shrapnel – the right colour, but not particularly refined or rose-like. Everyone at the party was too polite to ask me what they were, anyway. I’m sure I should be outside collecting my own roses (or stealing them from my neighbours under cover of darkness) and crystallising their petals, but that’s a task for another time.

If I had any doubts about my choice of cake, I spotted Nigel Slater himself at my local farmers’ market on Sunday morning, which I took to be a good omen. I suppose I should have invited him round for tea, but my baking’s certainly not up to that challenge just yet…

It tasted OK, but what are those pink bits?

All very nice, but what are those pink bits?