Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Kitchen Diaries II

Autumn Blackberries 
Sunday morning and it’s my radio day. It’s a packed show with a prerecord of Rose Prince opening The Weston and Lois Weedon Horticultural Society's Annual Produce and Flower Show. It’s a nightmare title and despite saying it out loud as I am driving to the show and yet as I go on air  I get it wrong.  Suddenly I get a jab of nerves.  I am unable to say it properly.  Of course Kevin is amused and picks up on it creating second chance for me to get it wrong again.  I determine to say it correctly.  I can feel the people in Weston and Lois Weedon rolling their eyes. Maybe I’ll get it right next year.  

The horticultural show is in it is 72nd year and was a fabulous afternoon. The audio with Rose Prince was made all the better by the chatter and noise of people in the background.  There is atmosphere and  I enjoy chatting with a genuinely lovely lady.  We move out of the tent to get a second audio about her pop up bakery and find a quiet spot by a gate.  As we are talking she spots a mop of black glossy elderberries.  I catch a look of intention and smile as she worries that the farmer will mind.  I like her all the more for thinking about the farmer. 

Having a crumble cake for dessert makes a change from just the usual crumble and custard

I tweet during a record to @RealNigelSlater that I am going to chat about his new book, and read a random paragraph out loud.  His words are poetry and I am thrilled as Nigel tweets back that he was listening in.  I am so glad that I didn’t know beforehand.  I think that there is an assumption that bubbly people don’t get nervous.  We do.  We just hide it really well behind a big smile.

Nigel's new book is an absolute treat to read. The style is consistent with the previous diary, but this book is closer in design to the Tender volumes.  It is a work of art, with an exquisite font, textured cover and heavy paper.  It is in every sense beautiful, but I don't want to to just sit on the bookshelf   ...  I want to bring it to life by cooking lunch from it so I head home via Waitrose. 

As the rain pours down we pop buckets about the garden room to catch the drips and the children get under my feet. We can’t repair the roof until some other work is done ..  I won’t bore you .. but a comforting chicken and parsley pie from The Kitchen Diaries II and a favorite Blackberry Hazelnut and Cinnamon crumble cake from Tender II is exactly what’s needed. 

 When I get home I brave the rain and run into the garden to pick some parsley, but the weather and slugs have got the better of my poor plant and the paltry amount I have left is not worth using. It seems unfair to send my husband out in this rain.  Not having parsley is not the end of the world though when it comes to cooking pie and Nigel’s recipes have a structure, a simplicity, if you like of using uncomplicated delicious combinations and so if like me you run out of a key ingredient you can often substitute without loosing the main characteristics of the recipe. I peer into my fridge and am relived to spot some dill.  It’s remarkably fresh considering it is a few days old. 

The eggs my chickens lay have such yellow yolks they make the pastry golden.
With the crumble cake I have to swap two ingredients because William is allergic to apples and oats. I substitute apple for a conference pear and scatter chopped hazelnuts over the crumble to add texture, but the cake is in essence the same. Nigel suggests that the cake is better the next day ..  but despite making this cake a dozen times I’ve yet to find that out.

It's a perfect rainy Sunday afternoon. There is a constant pitter patter on the roof and the kitchen gets steamy. As I roll out the pastry Isobel asks why it is Nigel’s pie.  She insists that the pie is mine.  I show her the book and explain that the recipe was not by me and so with a five year olds logic she decides to mark it with a pastry N for Nigel and I leave her to it as the phone rings.  It is my sister. I ask if she wants to join us for lunch.  There is no hesitation. She heads straight over with a friend arriving as I am serving up.  She ignores my husbands begrudging welcome as he remarks that now there be no leftovers. There is laugher, rain, a bottle of white wine from my brother’s vineyard and pie. Delicious warming chicken pie, with golden pastry, bay leaf infused gravy and soft leeks. 

My husband was right.  There were no leftovers.  Not a scrap.

Chicken, leek and parsley pie - from page 347 The Kitchen Diaries II

A big, informal pie for a family gathering. Use cooked roast chicken if you wish, but this is something worth roasting your chicken pieces for. By all means crimp and primp your pastry, but I prefer the simpler approach of laying a ready-made pastry sheet over the top, brushing it with seasoned egg and milk for a good shine.

chicken pieces: 800g, on the bone

leeks: 4

butter: a thick slice

plain flour: 3 heaped tablespoons

hot stock: 650ml

bay leaves: 3
parsley: a small handful
all-butter puff pastry: a 375g sheet
beaten egg and milk, seasoned,
for brushing

Set the oven at 200°C/Gas 6. Put the chicken pieces in a roasting tin and
bake for thirty minutes, till golden. Remove from the oven, leave to cool a
little, then remove the flesh from the bones in large, bite-sized pieces and
set aside.

Thinly slice the leeks, wash them thoroughly, then cook them with the
butter and about 100ml of water till soft and brightly coloured. It is essential
not to let them colour, so keep a lid on and don’t have the heat too high.
When they are soft, stir in the flour, leave to cook for a few minutes, then
gradually pour in the hot stock, stirring as you go. Continue to cook, letting
the leek mixture simmer for ten minutes or so, till you have a thickish sauce.
Add the cooked chicken, bay leaves, chopped parsley and some salt and
pepper and continue cooking for a good five minutes. Try not to let the
chicken break up too much.

Spoon the chicken and leek filling into a pie dish. Unroll the pastry and
place it over the top of the dish, letting it overhang the sides. Brush the
pastry with the seasoned beaten egg and milk, cut small slits in the top to
let out the steam and bake for twenty-five minutes or until the pastry is
crisp and golden.
  Enough for 6

*Please note that this recipe was reproduced with kind permission from Nigel Slater and Forth Estate.


  1. Your photographs are stunning!
    Nigel is absolutely my favourite too. :)

  2. Oh, Vanessa, how cute that your five year old wanted to mark it with an 'N' for Nigel.

  3. The most incredible photos with perfect details. Nigel Slater is the most fabulous food writer. It is a book to cuddle up with. A beautiful post. X

  4. What a great story and the photos are beautiful. I bet Nigel Slater must be very happy with his new book and judging by these recipes it looks like bother winner to me :))

  5. That was a bloody good pie!

  6. My sister bought me this for my birthday, its a great read and you describe it really well. x


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