Teriyaki chicken, Nigella-style

Whilst I love Nigella Lawson's cookery books, I'm not sure I can say the same for her TV shows. Or at least, not her current one, Nigella Kitchen. Whilst I am definitely someone who revels in the beauty of food, I find Nigella's mini odes to whatever ingredients she is using rather tedious. It's an avocado, Nigella, not an array of "jade cubes". We can all see it's a lovely-looking trifle, but do we really need our attention called to "how beautiful these juicy beaded blackberries look glinting darkly out of that pale billowing duvet of cream"? Every single ingredient is preceded with a comment beginning "I love..." - it might be the "peppery heat of ginger", or the crunch of pine nuts, or the sound of a chicken's backbone breaking (I found the manic smile of satisfaction on her face as she crushed the poor bird before braising rather disturbing), but cooking for Nigella is not just cooking: it's an excuse for waxing rhapsodical about every ingredient under the sun, with a lustful enthusiasm that makes me feel slightly ill.

I also find her recipes fairly uninspiring - apart from a couple of strokes of genius (the pork knuckles and the Venetian carrot cake have gone on my "to-make" list), her entire repertoire seems to consist of dishes in which one can "indulge", and which require very little skill or imagination, but at least four forms of saturated fat (I am thinking in particular of the 'Grasshopper Pie' - butter, cream, chocolate, Oreo cookies, milk, creme de menthe...). Whilst I'm sure her linguine from the last episode would have tasted great, to me, mixing double cream, truffle oil, an egg and huge handfuls of grated parmesan into a mound of slippery pasta is neither cooking nor nutrition.

Meat comes out of the oven, and it's a "carnal unveiling". Which leads me onto my next point, and that is, the reason why I continue to watch Nigella Kitchen. Its plethora of food-related innuendoes is highly entertaining. Whether it's a gratuitous shot of Mrs Lawson's cleavage as she discusses her "glistening lemon cream", her constant remarks that she loves to "use her hands", or the way she comes downstairs in a negligee to make a bowl of "slut's spaghetti" and take it back with her to bed (the bowl, I might add, containing enough carbohydrate to feed a family of nine), or the remark, "I can't tell you how good it is squidging things out of that bag" (referring, of course, to using a piping bag to make churros doughnuts), I never fail to be amused by the way she can turn even the most innocent foodstuff into something filthy. 

So there I was, now on episode eight of Nigella Kitchen (I just can't stay away...it feels so wrong it's almost right), and the buxom lady herself started to whip up a teriyaki chicken with rice noodles and sugar snap peas. Fairly simple and not particularly life-changing, admittedly, but it did look rather good. 48 hours later and I found myself emulating the domestic goddess: marinating chicken thighs in a mixture of mirin, sake, soy sauce, brown sugar, grated ginger and sesame oil, before stir-frying them and their marinade with sugar snap peas and baby corn.

Now, I am no Nigella. For one thing, my cleavage does not have a life of its own. Nor do I decorate my kitchen with fairy lights. I don't feel the need to include double cream in nearly every meal, and the idea of eating in bed disgusts me. But I'm pretty sure my teriyaki chicken tasted every bit as good as hers. 

Thanks to Jon for the photos.

Of fish and fruit

Yes, I have been making more sushi. I feel like I'm on a bit of a sushi roll right now (...no pun intended) and finally found some sushi-grade mackerel in the fishmongers so was keen to do something with it. I made mackerel makisushi, filling the nori-wrapped rice with mackerel, soy sauce, cucumber, pieces of pickled ginger, and some sesame and nigella seeds for texture. I also made mackerel nigiri sushi, with strips of raw mackerel laid out on top of the rice. The seeds idea came from some M&S sushi I had recently, where the rice wasn't wrapped in seaweed but instead in a coating of these little black and white seeds. They go really well with the Asian flavours and add a more interesting base note than soy or wasabi would alone.

As well as this, we had salmon and tuna nigiri sushi, and tuna rolls filled with chopped raw tuna, soy sauce, sesame and nigella seeds, and crunchy bits of cucumber. My favourite raw fish is still salmon, because I think it has slightly more flavour. I actually found the mackerel lacked the gutsy flavour I thought it would have, being so strong-tasting when cooked or smoked. Next time I'll probably just stick with my smoked mackerel and red pepper filling, but this was nice for a change. I've heard that it is common to marinate the mackerel in some sort of vinegar mixture before use - I might try this next time and see if it makes a difference.

For dessert, something that I liked to tell myself was just as healthy as the sushi. I suppose it is when it looks like this:

But then you soak the grilled pineapple in a sugar, lime, and vanilla syrup, cover it with toasted coconut, and serve with a scoop (or two...) of vanilla ice cream. It's still vaguely healthy I guess, and absolutely delicious. I think I've written about it before, but it deserves another mention. Also, I got to use my blowtorch to caramelise the top of the pineapple rings, which was more exciting than it perhaps should have been. My friend Helen tells me that the Japanese love pineapple, so it was actually a very themed meal (accidentally, though).

Sushi: a first attempt

Having recently developed a slight obsession with sushi, accompanied by a sinking feeling every time I hand over the best part of a fiver and receive a tiny box full of the stuff, I decided to try making my own. If one of the contestants on Junior Masterchef can do it, I figured, so can I. 

A trip to the oriental supermarket followed, and I returned laden with the following: sushi rice, pickled ginger, wasabi paste, miso soup, nori seaweed sheets, and even a bamboo sushi-rolling mat.

The rice is easy: soak in cold water for an hour, then put in a pan with twice as much water, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or so until all the water is absorbed. Then stir in a mixture of caster sugar, rice vinegar and salt, and leave to cool. It ends up incredibly glutinous and sticky - I have a feeling that the "sticky rice" you can order in oriental restaurants is just sushi rice. It's actually quite hard work to extract the amount you want from the entire mass in the pan at the end.

The type I decided to make is called makisushi: rice and filling inside a sheet of nori seaweed. To make this, you lay a sheet of seaweed down on the bamboo mat.

Put the rice on top with a little bit of wasabi paste spread over it (in future, I may skip this step and let people add their own wasabi as they eat it...it was a little too strong!)

Then add the filling - this one is smoked salmon and cucumber - and use the bamboo mat to roll the nori up around the rice. You can wet the end to seal it together, but I found it held together nicely without me needing to bother.

This one is "crab" (i.e. crab sticks, because I can't afford real crab, nor can I find any in Cambridge) with avocado mashed with lime juice. 

And finally, a filling of smoked mackerel mashed with roasted, skinned red peppers (which, by the way, tastes absolutely amazing on its own and would make a beautiful sandwich):

So you're left with nice long rolls of sushi, which you can then slice (using a very sharp serrated knife) into rounds as long as you like - shorter is better for ease of eating, I found.

I think they look rather stylish laid out on plates with some pickled ginger and wasabi sauce. I also found some miso soup in the oriental supermarket to go with them. Some edamame beans would have been nice - there are few things more satisfying than podding them yourself straight into your mouth - but unfortunately I couldn't find any fresh ones. Next time, perhaps. Next time I also want to do it properly and use raw fish, maybe once I'm back in Oxford and have access to a proper fishmonger. I'd like to try nigiri sushi, which is just blocks of sushi rice with a strip of raw fish laid out on top. 

Not bad for a first attempt though, I think. And the best part? I still have at least two lunch-sized servings left, with no need to hand over my hard-earned cash to M&S.