“Cheesy Garlic Bread” from “At My Table”

I’ve got to say that it seems a bit of a cheat that Nigella is including a recipe for cheesy garlic bread in this cookbook. Surely everyone knows how to make cheesy garlic bread?

This is how I usually do it: 1. Make garlic butter. 2. Cut french stick horizontally. 3. Spread garlic butter liberally over each side of bread. 3. Sprinkle mozzarella (again, liberally) over the top of the garlic bread. 4. Put under broiler and watch like a hawk to make sure it doesn’t burn. 5. Eat with gusto.

I suppose we could call Nigella’s version a slightly more sophisticated take on this dish, as rather than banging two slices under the broiler, which is much quicker, you cut the bread vertically and then stuff the garlic butter and mozzarella between pieces. You wrap the whole thing up in aluminium foil and then roast it at 220C/400F for 30 minutes.

Is it better? I’m not sure. It definitely takes longer, and it looks nicer. But usually when I’m having cheesy garlic bread, I’m having it with pasta and that only takes 10 minutes to cook. So this version takes a bit of advance planning, which I’m not convinced is worth it.

But no matter how you make it, cheesy garlic bread is ALWAYS delicious.

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“Cheesy Garlic Bread” from “At My Table”

“Roast Red Hot Salsa” from “At My Table”

This recipe is peak Nigella: delicious and simple– so simple that I bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t thought to do this myself.

Essentially what you do to make this recipe is you put a load of tomatoes, red chillies, red onion, red bell peppers and garlic on a roasting tray, toss them in sea salt and veg oil, roast it for 40 minutes and then whizz it– either in a food processor or with a stick blender. See? Easy.

Nigella recommended 50 grams of red chillies, but I knew that was probably more heat than the boys could bear, so I only put in three. It still was hot, trust me. But also very yummy.

Would I make this again? Absolutely.

“Roast Red Hot Salsa” from “At My Table”

“Pizza” from “The Magic Fridge”

An important thing to know about our house: Pizza is a religion.

(As it happens, this is also true at Kirstin’s house, which is one of the many reasons why we are such good friends. We swap pizza tips, such as the time she told me about the steel plate for the bottom of her oven she bought for Tom to make better pizza. I then sourced my own type for Tim, which he got for Christmas. Everyone wins.)

We take it very, very seriously. Tim is the Pizza Maker in Charge, but as late I have found that I need to take over this serious responsibility as work demands have sent him half a world away until December. Tim now has an extremely complicated dough and yeast system that I can’t even begin to fathom, so I was quite happy to see this recipe for pizza in Magic Fridge.

The recipe is fantastic. Good instructions and the dough turned out great. Where things went horribly wrong– and this truly was operator error, rather than the fault of the cookbook– was when it came time to bake them. I was distracted by “Strictly Come Dancing”, so I just set the timer for 10 minutes and left the kitchen.  This was a mistake.

When I returned, the pizza on the top shelf was burned on the top, the pizza on the aforementioned steel plate was burned on the bottom, but the pizza in the middle was one for Goldlilocks because it was Just Right. But I vowed to fix the problem.

So when I made pizza the next time, I put the timer on for only 8 minutes and I didn’t leave the kitchen. I also checked on them periodically during the baking time. Guess what? They were perfect*. Another win for “The Magic Fridge.”

*Still not as good as Tim’s, but you can’t have everything. He just needs to come back and resume his pizza-making responsibilities.

“Pizza” from “The Magic Fridge”

“Cauliflower Cheese” from “The Magic Fridge”

Cauliflower cheese is a decidedly British dish, and one, I have to say, I fell in love with nearly 20 years ago when I arrived here and never stopped loving. One look at this search of Cookbook a Month archives will show you how much we love cauliflower cheese and variations thereof. It’s a winner.

For this recipe, you start by making the cheese sauce. If you’re at all nervous about making a roux– the foundation of all good cheese sauces– the directions here are clear and helpful. Also– and I would fail as a reviewer if I didn’t mention this– it produced the best cheese sauce I’ve ever had in my life. Honestly. It’s not as if this recipe is all that different from any other cheese sauce I’ve ever made, but there was something about it that made it special. It evoked strong memories of dining in Paris for me and I couldn’t stop stealing spoonfuls of it while I went about making the rest of dinner.

Once the cheese sauce is done (or if you’re following the philosophy of The Magic Fridge and you’ve taken it out of your refrigerator), you then get on with the cauliflower cheese portion of it. Another great tip out of this was to boil the cauliflower and then roast it for a short amount of time. This step prevented the cauliflower from softening too much and also gave it a bit of a nutty flavour. This was genius. An extra step, to be sure, but worth it.

Magic Fridge Cauliflower Cheese: For The Win.

“Cauliflower Cheese” from “The Magic Fridge”

“Salsa Verde” from “The Magic Fridge”

This idea behind “The Magic Fridge” is simple, but ingenuous: you make a large quantity of some type of “magic” ingredient– in this case, salsa verde– and then the cookbook provides you with a variety of recipes in which you can use the ingredient.

This blog is no stranger to the joys of salsa verde. It’s been used several times in a variety of cookbooks, all with success. It seems it’s best paired with fish, but I also could see it being used as a nice dip for vegetables (and indeed, that’s one of the recommendations in the “The Magic Fridge.”)

This recipe did not seem wildly different from other salsa verde recipes I’ve used and it was good. However, it should be noted that the quantities it produces is MASSIVE. While I know this makes sense from the book’s perspective– since the whole point is to make a lot of something and then have it to hand to use in other things– the yield for this recipe is so large (600 grams worth) it would take this family a very, very long time to get through it, especially since you can’t freeze it.

However, I am good at math– or at least I can half the output of a recipe when I need to do it– so that’s what I did here. I still had plenty left over for several different recipes [watch this space] but not so much that it didn’t go bad. I’m looking forward to trying it with other foods too until I’ve used all of it.

“Salsa Verde” from “The Magic Fridge”

“Rose Pesto Prawn Pasta” from “5 Ingredients”

We had high hopes for this. After all, we’re huge fans of prawns in this house and this looked like a new way to serve them up with pasta.

But in what is fast becoming a theme to this book, this was a bit bland. It was bland even with me including far more red pesto than Jamie had recommended. Hard to believe that’s how it played out, but it’s true. I’m not sure what more it needed, or maybe the whole recipe was just a bit boring. I don’t know.

Maybe the problem was that it pales in comparison to our very favourite pasta with prawns, shrimp scampi. This is what the Americans call this dish, by the way. British scampi is much different– that’s deep-fried prawns. That’s also delicious, but it’s also very different.  American shrimp scampi is made by sauteeing garlic in butter and olive oil, adding white wine to make the sauce, tossing in some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, adding the shrimps (or prawns, depending on whether you speak British or American), then finishing it off with parsley and lemon juice before putting over the pasta. See? Easy. Not to mention fast.

It’s not that this Jamie Oliver version was bad, mind you. It just wasn’t that good. But if you can stretch to 7 ingredients instead of five, I highly recommend making this shrimp scampi (from the always wonderful Melissa Clark) instead.

Jamie hasn’t posted this recipe online yet, so I can’t provide a link. You’re not missing much. 

“Rose Pesto Prawn Pasta” from “5 Ingredients”

“Easy Sausage Carbonara” from “5 Ingredients”

Do you know how sometimes you really enjoy a film or a book or a dish but then you go back and try it again and it’s not as good as you remember it?  That’s precisely what happened here.

The first time we had this, we all loved it. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that when I realised that I forgot to take a photo of it, I thought, “That’s not a problem. We’ll just have it again and I’ll remember to take a photo this time.” Believe me when I tell you it is *extremely rare* to have something twice in the same month from a cookbook we’re testing.

So I looked forward to this, not least because it was night that many busy families will have experienced themselves: we were scattered across London around dinner time, only getting together once we had finished our early evening appointments. So I rushed home to make this, in this case actually happy that it only takes 15 minutes, and was very much looking forward to a speedy delicious dinner.

However, I’m sad to say it just wasn’t as good this time. Despite using the always magnificent Italian sausages from Dring’s Butchers– and it definitely wasn’t the fault of the sausages– it just turned out a bit bland. I don’t think that was a criticism the first time around, but there we are.

However, I was curious how many ingredients a traditional pasta carbonara would use, because surely Jamie turned to this method because the traditional version would exceed the magic five limit. Guess what? Hold on your hats! Traditional pasta carbonara only uses five ingredients too! This even allows for the two different kinds of cheeses, though you could easily just use parmesan instead of pecorino and parmesan. (If you’d like to see the NYTimes recipe yourself, click through here to see it.)

I wish I knew why Jamie didn’t just include a traditional pasta carbonara recipe instead of this one. It’s quite possible that there’s a recipe for that in one of his 20 previous cookbooks. In fact, that’s highly likely. I just can’t be asked to go back and see for myself. So that must be why this sub-par one was included instead.

[While I was kicking around the NYTimes site, I also found this recipe for something that’s pretty similar to this, but I’m guessing, perhaps a little better.]

So would I make sausage carbonara again? Probably. But would I use this recipe? Probably not. It’s not a terrible idea, but clearly a quick Internet search showed me there were plenty of better recipes out there for a dish like this. I think I can stretch to a few more ingredients if it means it’ll taste better.

“Easy Sausage Carbonara” from “5 Ingredients”