Love is…

… putting the baby to bed on a wet, windy Saturday night and discovering that your Beloved has made you a heart-shaped potato cake to eat with rare Scotch fillet, a tumble of greens and a glass of pinot noir.

The heart shaped cake won points for cuteness but the round ones tasted just as good, thanks to their crispy exterior and soft, fluffy centres. The Boy Wonder loves potatoes and discovering new ways to cook them. Here’s how he did it this time:

POTATO CAKES

Preheat the oven to 200C. Peel a heap of floury potatoes (Agria if you’re in the southern hemisphere, King Edward or Maris Piper in the northern one) and boil until soft. Drain, then add a finely chopped onion, a couple of tablespoons of butter and a slosh of olive oil. Mash until soft and fluffy. Shape into cakes using a heart-shaped mould, a china ramekin or your hands, then place on a greased oven tray. Bake for 45-60 minutes until golden. Serve with love.

Backstage drama

Recipe testing last night for an upcoming issue of Frankie magazine – testing in more ways than one. I thought I had it all sorted – then remembered I’d forgotten to buy watercress. Then when I was foraging in the garden (in the dark) for rocket I remembered we didn’t have any soy sauce. Then I couldn’t get the skin off the salmon fillets. Then I overcooked the soba noodles and undercooked the fish. A mini-meltdown ensued.

Then I took a deep breath, plated it up and we ate. And life suddenly seemed much better. But it didn’t stop me from thinking that if all the world’s greatest chefs are men, it’s because they probably don’t have to deal with domestic dramas in the course of their work.

Anyway, the good news is that having my very own kitchen sink drama means I now know how to translate the chaos into a workable recipe for Frankie readers. That makes it all worth it, because you have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelette, as someone in a similar position once said.

The recipe will be in the November/December issue of Frankie (on news stands from late October).

Waste not, want not

I like to think of myself as an inventive cook, able to whip something up from a Mother Hubbard-style cupboard at a moment’s notice. Of course, sometimes this is easier said than done, but after a week of nearly constant entertaining and menu planning it’s fun to mix and match leftover ingredients. (A much nicer job than mixing and matching leftovers!)

So last week, when the fridge held a tiny packet of salmon trimmings and half a bottle of cream, I knew just what to do. The cream went into our smallest saucepan, while I filled the biggest pot with hot water and set it on the heat.

Once the water was boiling I threw in enough dried spaghetti for two (about 250g, we have hearty appetites in this house) and enough salt to make the water “as salty as the Mediterranean”.

I heated the cream (about 150mls) to a gentle simmer, then tossed in about 200g of fresh salmon, sliced into batons. I used the skinny ends of tail fillets, but you could use any cut you like. After a minute or two I added a handful of frozen baby peas and a few ribbons of lemon zest, then turned off the heat.

Then it was just a matter of draining the pasta, adding the creamy salmon sauce to the big pot and hey presto, dinner was ready. Economy gastronomy – and hardly any dishes.

The VIP dinner guest…

An Important Personage is coming for dinner. In the days of Jane Austen this would be the new vicar or a wealthy landowner, but in these, less rarefied times, it is simply the Boy Wonder’s new boss. There are things I have learned about the new boss that cannot be repeated, but we are rolling out the welcome mat and laying the best white tablecloth (thank you, St Vincent de Paul) all the same. The funny thing – well, funny to me, anyway – about the Important Personage is that he has gout, which is just the sort of affliction you would expect him to have.
Anyway, we are going to eat Shin of Beef with Ginger and Soy (from River Cottage Everyday), with udon noodles and steamed bok choy. Then, a Greek Orange Syrup Cake, which I haven’t made for years and years. A little note next to it in my recipe book says I first made it in 1999 for Vanessa’s birthday. Shamefully I can’t even remember the last time I spoke to Vanessa. But the cake looks good!

PS River Cottage Everyday is every bit as lovely – and useful – as you might expect. You can find more River Cottage inspiration at http://www.rivercottage.net/, including videos of Hugh making this very dish.