“Pilaff” and “Jerusalem Artichoke Soup” from “Leon 2”

Maureen: It’s pilaff from Leon tonight. I’ve added leftover chicken from the other night and frozen peas, as per their advice. What do you think?

Nicholas (7): I have my Night Hike tonight with the Boy Scouts! We have to leave soon!

Maureen (looking at the clock): You’re right! We have to leave in three minutes. Eat up!

Thus was the scene the first time we had the pilaff, which was delicious. So we tried again last night, in the hopes that we could more descriptive dialogue about it. Here’s what happened.

Maureen: Here it is, pilaff again. Remember how much you liked it the last time? (A knock at the door is heard. The boys run to answer it.)

Andrew: Gus is here! (The boys rejoin the table. The conversation then consists of Quasar strategy, the desirability of the new Nintendo 3DS, whether a portable gaming device is better than the Wii or XBox, and finally, if it would be possible to accidentally wash an iPad. Marketers take note: these are the hot topics of the day in the 7-11 set.)

Thus another dinner comes and goes with a London family. Hey, at least we’re eating together, even if I failed to get them to say anything scintillating about the food.

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“Pilaff” and “Jerusalem Artichoke Soup” from “Leon 2”

“Coconut Chicken & Petit Pois Curry” from “Leon 2”

Maureen: Curry night! We don’t do it very often, but maybe we should. What do you think?

Andrew (11): It’s like the other chicken curry you make, which is very good.

Maureen: What other chicken curry? We never have curry. You both think it’s too spicy.

Nicholas (7): I think it’s good.

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“Coconut Chicken & Petit Pois Curry” from “Leon 2”

“Turkey Bolognese” from “Leon 2”

Peter: This tastes of childhood.

Anna: What do you mean by that?

Peter: Well it’s a fairly innocuous base from which you can build any dish.

Anna: Sorry? Is that a metaphor for your childhood?

Peter: No.

Anna: But you’re saying that your mum used to make one thing and then dress it up lots of different ways during the week?

Peter: Yes. So you could put potato on top and you’d have shepherds pie. You could have it with boiled potatoes. Or, as here, in a spag bol.

Anna: Sounds delicious.  Well, I liked this as it was a healthy bolognese, but gutsy thanks to the wine and the mushrooms.  And it was very easy to throw together. So another tick.  But I have one gripe.

Peter: What’s that then?

Anna: It was way too runny. There’s just too many liquid components to the recipe. Lots of tinned tomatoes, lots of stock, lots of wine. Someone has got the proportions very wrong. You could easily cut the amount of liquid by a third.

Peter: There are lots of leftovers.

Anna: I’m not making a pie tomorrow, if that’s what you have in mind. But we will have it in a baked potato. So I guess I’m more like your mum than I thought.

“Turkey Bolognese” from “Leon 2”

“Spaghetti Puttanesca” from “Leon 2”

Tom: We’ve been talking about the origins of the name of this sauce.

Kirstin: Yes, because that’s why I don’t cook it normally.

Tom: Why does the name put you off?

Kirstin: It’s all that whore business.

Tom: So, our googling has revealed an interesting new possibility.

Kirstin: Oh yes?

Tom: I mean, the usual theory that most cookbooks don’t want to mention is that the sauce gets its name from the fact that it smells like sex. But oh, no. Most books can’t possibly say that. So they use words like “pungent”, mention anchovies and generally wave their hands. Pah. Anyway, that’s a plausible theory. Also, there’s the idea that this is a dish that could be whipped up quickly between, er, clients. But it turns out that there’s another theory that even the Victorians would approve of!

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“Spaghetti Puttanesca” from “Leon 2”

“Potatoes Leon-aise,” “Fred’s Asparagus,” and “Roast Carrots & Fennel” from “Leon 2”

Maureen: Since it’s Dad’s birthday, we’re having beef wellington, since that’s what he wanted. But we’re also having potatoes, asparagus and carrots from the Leon 2 cookbook. What do you think?

Nicholas (7): I loved the asparagus! I even had seconds. But everything else is “in the middle.”

Andrew (11): I liked the asparagus, too, but not as much as Nicholas. The potatoes were OK. I didn’t like the carrots.

Tim (aka Birthday Boy): How did the potatoes get so much liquid?

Maureen: That’s the chicken stock that you cook it in. What do you think?

Tim: I’m in the middle too. I like my roast potatoes more crispy and these are way more soupy than I prefer.

Maureen: They’re very healthy, though. There’s no butter, and very little olive oil.

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“Potatoes Leon-aise,” “Fred’s Asparagus,” and “Roast Carrots & Fennel” from “Leon 2”

“Upside down apple and cardamom tart” from “Leon 2”

Tom: This is really lovely and light and crisp. Puddings can be a bit stodgy sometimes, and this so isn’t.

Julia: The apples are perfectly cooked. But I can’t taste the cardamom.

Roger: It’s deceptive that such simple ingredients can result in such a sublime dish!

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“Upside down apple and cardamom tart” from “Leon 2”

“South Indian Pepper Chicken” from “Leon 2”

Tom: I’m really full.

Anna: You don’t get to eat curry very often do you?

Tom: I take every opportunity I can get. I like spicy food, but unfortunately the food decision-maker in the house doesn’t

Katrin: My dislike of curry has been a long-standing thing. I don’t like spicy, I don’t pepper, but I can eat Thai occasionally as long as it has a clean flavour. The flavours of Indian cooking just don’t work for me.

Anna: Do you like chilli con carne?

Katrin: No.

Anna: It must be the cumin. You don’t like cumin. To be fair, cumin does taste a bit like dusty socks…  Anyway, this menu was terrible for you.  Keralan pepper chicken curry, and the Dalston sweet potato curry again.  Genius. I’ve known you  12 years and I didn’t know you didn’t like curry.  I do now.

Katrin: Well, I ate the Dalston / Hoxton curry with lots of rice and it was ok. It would never be my first choice, but it was edible.

Anna: What did you think of the chicken curry?

Tom: I expected it to be more peppery. I love lots of pepper so I could have taken a lot more. But it was very nice. I really liked the vegetarian one, because of the sweet potato. It gave it a nice twist.

Anna: You’re right, the chicken could have had more pepper. The recipe doesn’t say how much to put on, just ‘a lot’, so it’s down to personal choice. If I was making it for you again, I’d know to use more pepper!

Peter: The consistencies and colours of both were relatively similar, so they sort of blended into each other.  Same as Tom, I expected it to taste more of pepper, but it was nice. Fresh flavours. Thighs were the right cut to use.  Nice and tender.

Anna: Well I preferred the Dalston curry tonight, but I’m still bored of cauliflower. I’m not dying to eat the leftovers tomorrow.  The chicken curry was nice. It was easy enough, and I’d consider making it again. Just not for Katrin.

“South Indian Pepper Chicken” from “Leon 2”

“Tom’s Red Pesto Surprise” from “Leon 2”

Maureen: Tonight we’ve got pasta with peas and bacon. Not to mention some red pesto and onions. Bon appetit!

Nicholas (7): A quick reminder? I don’t like bacon.

Maureen: But you like ham, and it’s pretty much the same thing.

Nicholas: NO. I’m a vegetarian, remember?

Andrew (11): Except when it comes to hot dogs and chicken parmigiana.

Nicholas: Don’t write that down! Don’t write that down!

Nicholas: Remember that time in the restaurant in Bologna that had the funny picture and they were looking for the artist?

Maureen: That was a picture of a pig eating some of their yummy food. Wow. That was some good eating. Let’s get back to the issue at hand. How do you like this?

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“Tom’s Red Pesto Surprise” from “Leon 2”

“John’s broccoli with garlic, cashew nuts and chilli” from “Leon 2”

Peter: This tasted quite Asian to me.

Anna: Of course it’s Asian! It’s got garlic, cashews and chilli in it. Oh, and soy sauce, just in case they aren’t Asian enough ingredients for you.

Peter: Well, the book’s called Leon which implies that the recipes are Mediterranean.

Anna: We had curry last night! Shall we start again?

Peter: Seven years too late….. This seemed to be a relatively quick dish, would you agree?

Anna: Yes, in fact this is the first recipe I’ve done from the book that lives up to the name of Naturally Fast Food.  It was rather good actually.  I loved the way it smelled like a proper Chinese – that’ll be the soy, garlic and chilli.  I would defintely make it again.

Peter: You made this as an accompaniment, to go with the salmon and spinach.

Anna: Would you eat it as a meal on it’s own?

Peter: There wasn’t that much to it. It needs something else to go with it.

Anna: Even if I made a load of rice to eat it with?  Would you still feel it wasn’t a proper meal?

Peter: Yes. It needs to have a focal point. Broccoli isn’t the hero of a dish.

Anna: Well as an Asian side dish I guess we could say that it’s our first Leon 2 success!

“John’s broccoli with garlic, cashew nuts and chilli” from “Leon 2”

“Chicken Pot Roast” and “Henry’s Quick Chocolate Cake” from “Leon 2”

There’s a link to the Henry’s Quick Chocolate cake recipe here.

Maureen: OK. Here’s a departure from our usual roast chicken. My never-fail-lemon-roast-chicken is a combination of methods from Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver and Patricia Wells. We all love it. It’s easy. It makes the house smell good. And the chicken is delicious. What do we think of this one, from Leon?

Andrew (11): The potatoes have an interesting flavour.

Maureen: Good interesting? Or bad interesting?

Andrew: Bad interesting.

Maureen: What don’t you like?

Andrew: It’s got a funny taste.

Maureen: That’s probably the wine. But it’s also potatoes that have been pot roasted to within an inch of their lives. Reminds me of my grandma’s cooking.

Nicholas (7): Wine! I don’t want to be drunk!

Maureen: You’re not going to get drunk. All the alcohol has been cooked out– with the flavour, apparently.

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“Chicken Pot Roast” and “Henry’s Quick Chocolate Cake” from “Leon 2”