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(Taken from Real Cooking by Nigel Slater)

I love a banger. Mild, herby British butcher’s variety, blow-your-socks-off fennel and black pepper Italian ones, or thick wodges of black pudding. Love them all.
To be good, really good, a sausage must be hot and sticky. It must sport that tacky, savoury goo that you get when it has been cooked slowly. It must be sweet, savoury, gooey, chewy and all at once. And a sausage should always be eaten when slightly too hot – part of the joy of a banger is to toss it around in your mouth whilst making sucking and blowing noises. A tepid sausage is a friend to no one.

Sausage suppers, bangers and mash, or grilled black pudding with creamy mustard sauce, are cold-weather food of the first order. I can think of nothing I would rather come in to after raking the leaves on an autumn afternoon than slow-fried sausages and a mountain of mash. Sausage hotpot comes pretty close. Or a woman with huge tits peeling off her sweater … where was I? Yes! Big hot sausages!

At the risk of upsetting sausage fanciers I honestly think that the plain butcher’s sausage is a tastier affair than all these fancy links around at the moment.

Choosing a sausage is not that difficult. Choose ones that are meaty and moist-looking, and perhaps freckled with pepper and a few herbs. It is best to avoid the butcher’s effort at originality until you have tried their house brand, which may be very good indeed. Some butchers really know how to make a banger. If in doubt, just go for a plump, friendly-looking one – banger, that is.

Nigella Lawson is 51 … and still as fit as a butcher’s dog … I’d give my right arm for one night in bed with her … it’s a minor compulsion, I can deal with it if I want to …

I used to go to bed around 4 a.m. frequently, a habit that came from: my former interest in astronomy and observing the night sky, watching late night programming on television and listening to late night shows on the radio, surfing the web late at night. All of these however do not currently have merit – I am no longer interested in astronomy, I do not even own a TV set now and surfing the web later is not better than earlier in the day. So I go to bed around 2 a.m. but I intend to make it more like midnight, followed by an hour or so of reading a good recipe book and eating cake so my dreams will be filled with Nigella, Queen of Gastroporn.

I have this dream where she is walking towards me, arms outstretched, she licks her lips, removes her bra, then suddenly a refrigerator full of profiteroles appears and she takes me by the hand … “Charles won’t mind,” she whispers in my ear. I look her straight in the eyes, I’m breathless. “My darling, don’t get sand in the profiteroles …”

She is the best known female food personality in the world today. The mere mention of her name can cause people to recall, accurately, what she sounds like, how she smiles, and, of course, how she cooks.

You might think it could be unnerving being Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson and constantly having your sensual charms – and curves – discussed alongside your body of work. But Lawson says that she can’t control how people perceive her and that ”it’s wrong to get into a state about it”.

She says the suggestion that the way she presents herself in front of the television is carefully thought about is simply false. ”I don’t construct a personality, but I certainly think the personality that is ascribed to me is not my personality,” she says. ”That’s a projection of other people, but also to do with the particular, strange force television has.”

Her trademark lascivious tone, for example, is unintentional. ”When I am talking to camera … I mean, I love my crew and I have had them forever so I am very very close to them … I know that I am quite an intense person and I know that I am being quite intimate. To me, I am not being remotely coquettish.”

Men and their egos are often the source of this misinterpretation, she suggests. ”One of the things I find quite endearing about men is that they do seem to have a certain sort of confidence and they sort of think anyone is flirting with them.”

Lawson is in Australia for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, of which she is the star attraction.

Here to represent a key festival theme, Women of the Kitchen, Lawson reflects on the women who inspired her. ”My mother was quite spontaneous, quite impatient, and really knew how to trust her own palate. I think people really underestimate how important that is,” she says. ”Maybe because cooking has been, in the large part, taken over by professionals, I think technique has been overstressed and actually what cooking is, is about trusting your instincts and about trusting your palate to know what tastes good.”

After graduating from Oxford University, Lawson worked as a literary journalist and opinion page columnist before releasing her first cookbook, How to Eat, which became a bestseller. Her first television series, Nigella Bites, became an incredible success and soon she was known as a woman who loves food and doesn’t torment herself dieting.

”I am always thinking about what my eating opportunities are, and what I can manage to get in,” she says.

(Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

1 large or 2 small onions
100g streaky bacon
large bunch of parsley, from which you can get a good 2 handfuls of leaves
75g butter, plus more for greasing dish and extra 15g for buttering top (if not stuffing turkey)
250g vacuum-packed whole chestnuts
250g breadcrumbs
1 x 435g can unsweetened chestnut purée
2 large eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
good grating of fresh nutmeg

Peel and roughly chop the onion and stick the pieces in the processor with the bacon and parsley. Or chop finely by hand.

Melt the 75g butter in a largish, heavy-based pan and, keeping the heat fairly low, cook the processed mixture until it softens, about 10 minutes.

Remove to a bowl and, using your hands, crumble in the chestnuts so that they are broken up slightly, then mix in the breadcrumbs and chestnut purée. This isn’t very hard to do by hand (a wooden spoon and brutal manner will help), but an electric freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment is the agreeably lazy option.

If you are making this in advance, then let it get cold now, otherwise beat in the eggs, season with only a little salt (remember the bacon will contain some) and a good grating of fresh nutmeg and fresh pepper.

If you want to stuff the turkey with this on Christmas morning, be my guest; otherwise butter your dish or foil container, add the stuffing, spread the 15g butter on top, and bake, uncovered, in the oven underneath the turkey for 30-40 minutes, depending on how full your oven is.

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

150g currants
150g sultanas
150g prunes, scissored into pieces
175ml Pedro Ximénez sherry
100g plain flour
125g breadcrumbs
150g suet
150g dark muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
2 x 15ml tablespoons honey
sprig of holly to decorate
125ml vodka to flame

Although I stipulate a capacious 1.7 litre basin, and cannot extol the utter gloriousness of this pud too much, I know that you’re unlikely to get through most of it, even half of it, at one sitting. But I like the grand, pride-instilling size of this, plus it’s wonderful on following days, microwaved in portions after or between meals, fried in butter and eaten with vanilla ice cream for completely off-the-chart, midnight-munchy feasts. But it wouldn’t be out of the question – and it would certainly be in the spirit of the season – to make up the entire quantity of mixture, and share between smaller basins – a 2 pint one for you, a 1 pint one to give away. Three hours’ steaming both first and second time around should do it; just keep the one pudding for yourself, and give the other to a friend, after it’s had its first steaming, and is cool, with the steaming instructions for Christmas Day.

Put the currants, sultanas and scissored prunes in a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swill the bowl a bit, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week.

When the fruits have had their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer, and butter your heatproof plastic pudding basin (or basins), remembering to grease the lid, too.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining pudding ingredients, either in the traditional manner or just any old how; your chosen method of stirring, and who does it, probably won’t affect the outcome of your wishes or your Christmas. Add the steeped fruits, scraping in every last drop of liquor with a rubber spatula, and mix to combine thoroughly. Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, squish it down and put on the lid. Then wrap with a layer of foil (probably not necessary, but I do it as I once had a lid-popping and water-entering experience when steaming a pudding) so that the basin is watertight, then either put the basin in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the basin) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of basin happens to fit perfectly in the top of my double-decker couscous pot) and steam for 5 hours, checking every now and again that the water hasn’t bubbled away.

When it’s had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don’t want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the foil, and put the pudding in its basin somewhere out of the way in the kitchen or, if you’re lucky enough, a larder, until Christmas Day.

On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its basin) in foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours’ combined cooking time might seem a faff, but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time.

To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, take off the lid, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the plastic basin a little squeeze to help unmould the pudding. Then remove the basin – and voilà, the Massively Matriarchal Mono-Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)

Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my diddy copper butter-melting pan) and the minute it’s hot, but before it boils – you don’t want the alcohol to burn off before you attempt to flambé it – turn off the heat, strike a match, stand back and light the pan of vodka, then pour the flaming vodka over the pudding and take it as fast as you safely can to your guests. If it feels less dangerous to you (I am a liability and you might well be wiser not to follow my devil-may-care instructions), pour the hot vodka over the pudding and then light the pudding. In either case, don’t worry if the holly catches alight; I have never known it to be anything but singed.

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

This involves a simple, but amply satisfying procedure. In advance, as soon as you get your bird home, remove any trussing, take out the giblets and stash them separately in the fridge. Before putting the turkey in the fridge, wash the inside of the bird with cold running water. Drain well and blot dry with kitchen towels.

The important thing is that you take your bird out of the fridge a good hour before you want to start cooking it, so that it’s at room temperature before you begin. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Now comes the bosomy bit. You take your turkey and, using your fingers, wiggle some space between the skin and breast of the bird, being careful not to tear the skin. (Mind you, turkey skin is so tough, you’d probably need talons to rupture it.) Into this space you’ve made, squeeze good sausage meat, or the contents of your favourite butcher’s sausages (900g of either should be enough for a 5.5kg turkey), pushing, pressing and coaxing so that it covers the whole breast.

Then, from on top of the skin, mould it a little with your hand so that the breast is voluptuously but smoothly bulging. Secure the flaps of skin over the cavity with a metal skewer so that the sausage meat doesn’t escape during cooking.

The skin really crisps up as this turkey roasts, and the sausage meat, which drips down into the breast as it cooks, keeps the meat from drying out. To ensure the turkey doesn’t brown too rapidly, cover it loosely with a sheet of buttered foil until halfway through the cooking time about 2 hours 40 minutes total for a 5.5kg bird with its sausagey faux-bosom). You could then dispense with the chipolatas (or stuffing if you can live without it), so this is a good way of cutting down on dishes to prepare, without making huge sacrifices.

(Taken from Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home by Nigella Lawson)

This is perhaps one of the most useful puddings you can have in your repertoire. Not that it is the job of a pudding to be useful: a pudding exists merely to delight. Still, dinner does need to be made, even when there’s precious little time for it and that should be a delight, too.

So here’s the deal: there is pitifully little work to be done to make this berry-dazzler of a tart, and enormous pleasure to be derived from its consumption.

All you do is bash a few biscuits a day or so in advance and make the base – getting one course out of the way early is my way of managing – then stir lemon curd and cream cheese together, and use this cream to line the crumb-covered tart tin. I use shop-bought lemon curd here, but even if it comes out of the jar, it must be of good quality. And when it is whipped into the cream cheese, that cream cheese must be at room temperature, as should the lemon curd in its jar. The combination produces a layer of what tastes like cheesecake cream: light, lemony, luscious.

I used to put the berries on top of the cream pretty much last-minute, but then I found that a leftover wedge, after the party, looked inviting after being in the fridge overnight, and so I now finish assembling the tart ahead of time. But if you prefer to add the fruit nearer to serving, I completely understand. Don’t feel you must obey the fruit orders too literally: any mixture of berries (or indeed other fruit) would do, and you could well use a smaller amount and top the tart less extravagantly.

Ingredients

375g digestive biscuits
75g soft unsalted butter
2 x 200g packets cream cheese, at room temperature
1 x 240g jar lemon curd, at room temperature
125g blueberries
125g blackberries
125g raspberries
125g redcurrants or pomegranate seeds
125g small strawberries

Method

Process the biscuits and the butter to a sandy rubble and press into the sides and bottom of a deep-sided fluted tart tin. Place in the freezer (or fridge if that is not possible) for 10-15 minutes.

In a clean processor bowl, process the cream cheese and lemon curd (or just mix by hand) and spread into the bottom of the chilled tart tin, covering the base evenly.

Arrange the fruit gently (so it doesn’t sink in too much) on top of the lemony cream cheese in a decorative manner (see right), leaving some of the strawberries unhulled, with their picturesque stalks attached.

Place the tart in the fridge, preferably overnight, though for at least 4 hours. It does need to get properly cold in order to set enough for the tart to be unsprung and sliced easily.

(Taken from Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home by Nigella Lawson)

So soothing is the process, so welcoming and enveloping the savoury smells emanating from stove and oven as this risotto cooks, so ambrosial the taste, so universally rewarding the experience, that the labour involved can be embraced gladly. If you don’t appreciate this, then you don’t deserve it.

This is really a meat sauce risotto, but that makes it sound too sloppy, too unspecial. This is no run-of-the-mill meat sauce, not least because it contains veal stock. (I buy jars of good-quality veal stock to have on standby.) And if it seems unorthodox to be cooking the meat sauce in the oven, I agree, it is. You can ignore me, and just cook everything on the hob. But putting the pot in the oven and leaving it there to cook is hardly what football managers would call a Big Ask. Besides, the method is vastly superior: flavour is intensified, texture is more melting and tender. If I have the time, this is now my ragù route of choice.

The meat sauce here, that ragù which for us is always bolognese, is runnier than you would make if this were dressing pasta, and pointedly so: it is all these meaty juices with which the rice will become so delectably swollen later.

A final note: I have marked the anchovies ‘optional’ simply because I know that some people have a thing about them, although as a general rule, I would advise you to pay no heed to such faddiness, not least because good anchovies just melt into the sauce, bringing their salty resonance with them. However, if you are feeding children with laser detectors in place of palates and who cannot cope with fish of any sort, give up now.

Ingredients

1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and halved
1 stick celery, halved
1 small clove garlic, peeled
handful fresh parsley
75g rindless streaky bacon
4 anchovy fillets (optional)
50g unsalted butter, plus 1 x 15ml tablespoon (15g)
½ teaspoon regular olive oil
250g minced beef, preferably organic
80ml marsala
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 15ml tablespoon tomato purée
2 x 15ml tablespoons full-fat milk
2 litres veal stock (500ml plus 1.5 litres), preferably organic
2 bay leaves
500g risotto rice
6 x 15ml tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Put the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, bacon and anchovy into a processor and whiz to a fine mush. Heat the 50g butter and ½ teaspoon oil in a deep, heavy ovenproof casserole with a lid. Tip in the contents of the processor and cook for about 5 minutes until softened.

Add the meat and let it brown a little, breaking it up in the pan, then add the marsala.
Process the tomatoes until smooth, and add to the meat.

Stir the tomato purée into the milk and then add this mixture to the pan, along with 500ml veal stock and the bay leaves.

Bring to the boil on the hob, then clamp on the lid and transfer the casserole to the oven for 1 hour.

Once the meat sauce is out of the oven, fish out the bay leaves. Heat the remaining 1.5 litres veal stock in another saucepan and keep that warm over a very low heat, then put the meat sauce on a low heat next to it.

Stir the rice into the meat sauce, and then add a ladleful of the hot stock. Stir until the rice and sauce become thick again and then add another hot ladleful of stock.

Continue to add the stock as needed, though only a small ladleful at a time, stirring all the time as you go. Check to see if the rice is cooked after about 18 minutes – you may not need all the stock before this happens.

When it’s ready, turn off the heat and stir or beat in, with your wooden spoon, the cheese and the extra tablespoon of butter before seasoning to taste and doling out into shallow warmed bowls. Serve with extra parmesan, if you like.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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