Dill and Dijon Smashed Potatoes

Dill and Dijon Smashed Potatoes

Last week K went off to America for work, and I hatched the improbably ambitious plan of redecorating the bedroom and study to surprise him on his return. Fortunately, I had backup in the shape of my amazing mum, who came round most nights after I finished work to lend a hand and chivvy me along through my darkest moments of DIY despair! But with every spare minute after work taken up sanding, painting and varnishing, I’m not ashamed to tell you that cooking and eating properly went completely out of the window. In fact, dinner most nights consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich, eaten off a toolbox in the middle of the lounge floor, with only the weak glow of the streetlamps outside for light! My poor mum. Must remember to show her a better time.

Despite my atrocious hospitality, with her amazing help we were able to finish the two rooms in record time. But now recovering from my week of DIY madness, I’ve found myself craving proper food again. Something comforting but healthy. Something emphatically not a ham and cheese sandwich! So this weekend I fell back on an old recipe I’ve been whipping up for years. My dill and dijon smashed potatoes.

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Sardine Ragu

Sardine Ragu

I love how some recipes have a magnetic quality that keep you coming back to them time and time again. I’m talking about the ones that surreptitiously work their way into your everyday repertoire until you can’t imagine how you ever did without them. This, for me, is one of those recipes. It’s peasant food of my own creation – a dish that delivers a depth and complexity of flavour that you’d never expect given its simple list of ingredients, and most importantly of all… even when the cupboards are bare and the fridge is empty, I still usually have everything I need on hand to make it. That’s how simple it is. And yet somehow, it still manages to feel like a treat. The sort of meal I want to curl up on the sofa to eat, quietly delighting in every morsel.

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Lamb, Beetroot and Quinoa Burgers

Lamb, Beetroot and Quinoa BurgersIn our last house, we were lucky enough to live just around the corner from a great pub* that did to-die-for burgers – perfectly cooked, with a herb-laced side salad and spot-on french fries. They were so profoundly joy-inducing that we made them the centrepiece of our ‘end-of-a-long-hard-day-treat’, the crucial pillar of a holy trinity that came to be known as ‘Beer, Burger, Bed’. After a particularly long, hard day’s filming, K and I would stagger to the pub, order one of these burgers, wash down a beer (or a cider in my case) and stagger immediately back home to bed to collapse in the warm, magical glow of a burger-induced coma. In fact, Beer, Burger, Bed became such a mesmerising mantra that on particularly tough days we’d often start reciting it at about midday, just to get us through!

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Pork Belly Baked Beans

Pork Belly Baked BeansI don’t know what the weather’s like where you are, but in London it’s like we’ve skipped spring and fast-forwarded straight to summer! Our dour, mizzly city has been transformed into a hazily lit haven for free-spirited summer socialising, with people spilling out of pubs onto the pavements and all around me people excitedly planning their first barbecues of the year.

I love barbecues, really I do. But I have also been here before. The slight uptick in the mercury, the hastily made barbecue plans…and then it being April, a month renowned for its showers – the massive raging thunderstorm, the friends pressed into service holding umbrellas above a fizzling barbie, the sodden paper plates and the damp chef, and the overwhelming feeling of being cheated by our great British weather, again.

Luckily, this year I have come up with the ultimate barbecue plan. Once again I will put my heart on the line and attempt a wildly optimistic April barbie. But this time I’m also taking out a cast-iron insurance policy in case the weather lets me down. And that insurance policy? Well, it’s my hearty and deliciously meaty, pork belly baked beans!

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Salt cod, new potato and Valencia orange salad

Salt cod, new potato and Valencia orange saladIsn’t it strange how you can sometimes go your whole life without encountering a certain flavour or ingredient, and then all of a sudden, it’s everywhere?! That happened to me last year with salt cod. It was as though it was trying to find me. My first taste of it was while working in Rio de Janeiro last Easter, where we dined on delicious fried salt cod balls called bolinhos de bacalhau that are hands down the best bar snack I have ever tasted. Shortly after that I discovered brandade de morue, a beautiful French dip of salt cod, whipped into a state of ecstasy with copious amounts of olive oil. And the final clincher was on a trip to Malaga, where they served up their local specialty – Malaga Salad, combining delicate salt cod flakes with sweet oranges, olives and potatoes to create a salad that completely blew me away. By the end of last year, after a whirlwind romance, I had to admit that I had fallen head over heels with salt cod. But it hadn’t always been that way.

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Sausage and Lentil Casserole

Sausage and Lentil Casserole

Hey guys, sorry for the radio silence this week. It’s been a teeeny bit manic! In between having a big deadline at work, and arranging completion on my new home (woop!), in my spare time I’ve just, you know, casually decided to embark on a battle with retail giant B&Q, in a debacle that’s become known to my family and friends as #paintgate. If you’re curious, head over to twitter to see what’s been going on, but basically this has kept me fairly busy, and involved me doing things like reading ‘the Sale of Goods Act 1979′ on my morning bus journey to work – nice!

In all the midst of this, my evening meals have been a bit, um, deconstructed (read: lots of ham and cheese!). So this weekend, with K jetting off to America for work and me in desperate need of a rest, I decided I’d dedicate two whole days to completely chilling out. And in my world, a weekend like that starts with a trip to an amazing market.

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Saffron Sizzled Chicken

Saffron Sizzled Chicken

If I had to name my favourite ingredient in the kitchen, it would have to be saffron. I mean, what’s not to love? There’s the fact that it comes from the strangely edible stamens of my favourite spring flower – the crocus. And then there’s the reverence it demands from those who cook with it – I still remember my scientist dad preparing saffron for rice with the same meticulous method he’d use to transfer chemicals in the laboratory, to make sure not even the tiniest fleck would be wasted! But of all the things I love about saffron, most of all, I love what happens when saffron is introduced to chicken.

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