Kitchen Disasters R Us

It occurred to me the other night – as I frantically scoured out one of my favorite saucepans while flapping at the smoke alarm with a tea towel – that things in the kitchen don’t always go to plan.


Please note – no kitchens were harmed in the making of this stock photo.

What had gone wrong? Well, I had been making mashed potatoes for myself in my new favorite manner, which is to simmer them in a bit of milk, and then use that milk for the mashing liquid. It takes a bit longer for the potatoes to cook but you lose none of the potato flavor to water, and you’ve already got hot potato-rich milk for the mashing.  Add butter, and it’s a great no-draining method for mash just so long as you don’t get distracted by the TV as they’re simmering.

Which, of course, I did.

It was a disaster. The milk boiled away, the potatoes caught, and instead of spending the evening happily shoveling bowlfuls of buttery carbs down my gullet, I spent the evening in a mournfully carb-free upper body workout. The pan may eventually have been rescued but my supper was not.


On the bright side, I wasn’t cooking for company.

Still, it did get me thinking about kitchen disasters and whether or not they befell only me. A quick survey of my friends, family, and fellow foodies confirmed (to my pleasure, I must confess) that I was far from being the only kitchen klutz or gastronomic goober in the world. People responded with a wide variety of epicurean errors and baking breakdowns.

  • On the baking front, challah bread seemed to be particularly perilous. I have only ever assisted in the making of challah – last year when my beautiful friend Pamela came to visit. She produced a perfect, and perfectly delicious loaf, but I remain convinced to this day that the Old Testament (including the begats) can be read in the time it takes to make a challah.
  • On the cooking side, chicken and turkey stocks and gravies proved to be near-constant sources of sadness.

So as the holiday season is falling fast upon us with the many dinner parties it brings, I thought I’d share my thoughts on kitchen disasters; how to hopefully prevent them, and failing that, how to cope when they do befall you. In most instances I speak from sad experience, so believe me when I tell you that the first rule is to never be far from a glass of wine. Or three.

So what are the main causes of preventable kitchen disasters?

First, last and almost always – preparation, or lack thereof. Not so long ago some jackass coined the phrase “To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail”. While I believe the smug git responsible for that little chestnut should be treated much as we treat chestnuts traditionally this time of year, he does have something of a point. If you know you have a dinner party coming up – particularly the Big T or C, then act like it. Get yourself ready prepped ahead in enough time so that on “game day”, all you have to do is cook.

Top Prep Tips

SHOPPING. Get your shopping done the day before (or whenever before, depending on what you’re shopping for), your cleaning done, EVERYTHING done, so you can march into that kitchen loaded for bear. (If you’re cooking bear- it ain’t illegal everywhere- get your hunting done the day before.) You don’t want to be running out to the shops in the middle of cooking something, even if it is a 3 hour turkey. You might get caught in a traffic jam, or a hostage situation. “Can we move it along? My bird’s getting dry” is probably not the best gambit when facing a member of ISIS.

RECIPES. Some are good, and some are bad. So read the recipe, then read the dang thing again before you start in. Why? Because recipes can be bad for a great many reasons, the worst of which is the booby-trap. The booby trap is that little all-important nugget in a recipe that catches you out, and even makes you believe the author may be setting you up for failure. Let me give you a classic example:


See? So read the recipe through carefully, then, if it calls for leeks that have been cleaned, julienned, and flambéed, cook something else.

Conversely, sometimes you need to trust the recipe. Do not, as I once did, blithely assume that in a recipe for stuffing one could replace cornbread with wholemeal bread. I don’t like to talk about it. Suffice to say that the end result looked and tasted like a by-product of fracking.

TIME. It’s been said over and over, but I’ll say it again. Take your time! Cook as much as you can in advance and take plenty of breaks. Bake the pie, have a glass of wine. Make the compote, have a snifter of port. Stuff the bird, sniff some snuff. It’s all about pacing yourself. Most importantly, make sure you have the time to take a nice long shower. Even if the dinner doesn’t smell good, you should.

CLEAN & DRY. By which I mean your kitchen floor. Make sure that floor is clean and dry before you start in with the cooking, and don’t let any guests with their outdoor shoes in. You never know what might hit that floor later. Trust me.

HOT. By which I mean your oven. A big dinner party is not the time to stop using your oven as a storage facility. Make sure it works and check how it’s working before you start cooking. This is important even if you used it only two months ago.  Give it a test run. If it’s got crazy hot and cold spots, then maybe souffles should not be on the menu. Or if it’s anything like mine (as I recently discovered while cooking for a dinner party), and turns itself off as soon as it’s hit the requested heat, baking of any sort may also be off the table as you would have to be constantly pinging the dang thing back on. So before you find yourself frantically Googling “How To Spatchcock And Grill A 16lb Stuffed Turkey“, makes sure your oven is up to the job.

TASTE. I mean it. Taste almost everything as you go. It’s absolutely the only way to catch something going wrong before it’s too late. It’s also the only way you’ll enjoy the meal you’re preparing since as by the time it’s ready to serve up, you won’t be able to stand the sight of it. The only thing you shouldn’t taste is a roast potato as it comes out of the oven. Any hopes for delivering little bon mots along with the bon-bons will be instantly burnt away. Do, however, make sure you taste the wine. Early and often.

PUT A LID ON IT.  Just like the Porsche, there is no substitute for your blender lid.  So find it first. Especially if, like I once attempted,  you’re making zucchini soup. Try to improvise, and you’ll wind up with a kitchen only HR Giger could love.


MENUS. Of course if you’ll be serving a three course menu with accompanying side dishes, you must make sure that all courses and accompanying side dishes balance and follow each other in a seamless culinary cataract of taste and texture. But for the love of God, DON’T print the menu up and leave copies at place settings. However fancy the dinner, this is a meal in your home, not Baked Alaska Night on the QEII. A printed menu is a written contract, and leaves you absolutely no  wiggle room for substituting, say,  green beans for petit pois as a side dish, or pizza from Domino’s for the beef bourguignon.

BACKUP. Always have backup.  Your heart may be set on making your gravy from the stock you’ve had simmering on the stove, but should you accidentally pour that stock down the sink (which can happen), you’ll want some chicken stock cubes stashed discretely in your cupboard.  Similarly, your Hollandaise may go wrong on you. Now I’ve long been a disciple of the “Pour It Through A Strainer And Call It Something Else” school of culinary cover-ups but some sauces simply cannot be rescued so having a jar of commercially produced stuff to hand is no bad idea. A squeeze of lemon juice, a bit more tarragon, and who’s to know?

If you happen to not be single, utilising your partner as host to keep guests entertained/merry/the hell away from you is an excellent and in fact crucial backup. If you are single, then invite one friend early to provide the same said service.  Menus for good local takeaways are also a good Plan B if need be, as is keeping the back door unlocked and downloading the Uber app, ya get me?

So those are my thoughts on preventing kitchen disasters, or at least preparing for them.  But what do you do when something does go horribly wrong? First, ask yourself this question: Were there any witnesses?

In this age of “open plan living”, you may be in something of a pickle (though by now, you should be at least mildly pickled yourself). But if not, then “plausible deniability” is the order of the day. If so – well, even if you are faced with a kitchen that faces everyone else, all may not be lost. After all, your spouse/accomplice should be keeping your guests’ attention well away from you. And anyway, it’s only a truly sadistic dinner guest who wants to watch you cook. (I know this to be true because I’m one of them.)

So what can go wrong? Well to my mind there are 4 major culinary catastrophes that can still befall you.

Culinary Catastrophe Categories

DROP IT LIKE IT’S HOT. Those last few minutes before serving up can really make you a butterfingers, especially if there’s actual butter involved. So should you find yourself accidentally dropping a pie/pork chop/ $200 standing rib roast on the kitchen floor, now is not the time to bellow “FIVE SECOND RULE!!” Instead, aim for a graceful plié to the floor to retrieve said comestible, best accompanied by a tinkly laugh as you swing back up again. (You should probably practice said tinkly laugh ahead of time, not to mention the plié.)


In a similar vein, should something on your stove top actually catch fire due to, say, a misplaced oven mitt or the like (I have lost many an oven mitt this way), do not panic. Simply toss the flaming object into the sink and douse it (presumably with that turkey stock), while merrily declaiming, “I’m just flambeing the leeks!” This also applies if it’s you that has caught fire, which would  be another good time to utilise that tinkly laugh you’ve been rehearsing.

ALL CHOKED UP. Despite your most vigilant efforts, you may still produce a dish that is basically inedible. This usually happens for one of four reasons:

  • Too much salt
  • Too much chili
  • You over cooked it
  • It’s still alive

Whatever the reason, now is the time for your spouse/stooge to swing into action. Should they survive their first mouthful, they must instantly exclaim “Gee these ghost chili potatoes/kale/raw offal are to die for!” while grabbing the serving dish and shoveling its entire contents onto their own plate. You may wish to have a prearranged signal set up for this eventuality, such as a light cough, or spearing their hand with your fork.

THE BAD APPLE. This is by far the worst disaster that can befall you as a dinner party cook. And what is the Bad Apple? Quite simply, a guest. Not just any guest, but the guest who arrives, and while taking off their coat blithely mentions they’ve just turned vegan/Ayurvedic/kosher. The bad apple is

  • the guest who will inquire as to whether or not the eggs in your nog are free range or your cumin seeds are organic
  • the guest who will spend a roast beef dinner talking about all the wonderful work Temple Grandin  did with industrial scale abattoirs
  • the guest who will tell you that your sauce vierge is historically incorrect
  • the guest who just flat-out says “Pass the water, that turkey is DRY.”

You can’t really prepare for a Bad Apple. You know your friends and most probably you know how they behave around food, so you either invite them or you don’t. The Bad Apple is almost always the previously un-met partner/cousin from out of town/unloved colleague that the vagaries of the holiday season land in your lap.

So what do you do? There’s no point addressing rudeness, even if they’re quite right and your aspic does taste like ass. So you have two options. You can either A) sail past each rude remark with that tinkly laugh of yours (you rehearsed it, so you might as well), and change the topic every time they open their mouths to speak, or you can B) slip them a Mickey Finn. Or your partner/ partner in crime could swing into action once more,  and C) take them out back and bludgeon them. It’s unlikely they’ll be missed.

THE MORNING AFTER. This final kitchen catastrophe comes not before or even during dinner – but usually by phone the next day. That’s when you get calls or messages about how “We had a such a lovely time last night, but Enid and I are feeling just a tad off today. Enid would thank you  herself but I can’t peel her off the toilet seat.”


Now you may be feeling equally unwell. You may in fact have been hospitalized. But by no means should you accept responsibility for what your friends may now be treating as an outbreak of Ebola. Now is the time to blame something – anything – you bought, rather than anything you cooked. Remark that you always thought there was something sinister about the manufacturing process of candy corn, but somebody had insisted. If necessary, brazen it out and declare yourself to be as fit as a fiddle. Be seen around town doing sporty things or eating out, daring to wear pale skirts or trousers. Yes, you may have to drive to another town under the cover of night to purchase enough Immodium to carry off this ruse – just make sure you know where every rest stop is on the way.

So there we have it.  If things go wrong in the kitchen, and at some point in your culinary life they most certainly will, try to keep a level head. And if after your dinner party is over, and things really didn’t go to plan, ask yourself the following:

  1. Is Your house still standing?
  2. Was there a body count?
  3. Did it make the news?
  4. Were you/any of your guests secretly hoping to lose weight this holiday season?

Then finish off that wine and remember

  • you are probably not Mary Mallon, the Irish cook who at the turn of the last century became celebrated (well, not exactly celebrated) as Typhoid Mary.
  • Nor are you the proprietor of the Purity Distillery Company, whose improper storage of 2.3 million gallons of molasses lead directly to the Great Boston Molassacre of 1919, which killed 21 people and took six months to clean up.

I bet you got your kitchen looking good as new in far less time than that.  I hope I’ve been of some help. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I smell something burning …

A TransAtlantic Towers Update

Autumn is upon us at TransAtlantic Towers (and everywhere else) so now is a good time to take stock of what’s cookin’ on site.

The apple tree is bearing fruit. The tree is only just over a year old so it’s still quite small and the fruit is as well. But the apples are still tasty.


@dungeekin undertook another another major cookery weekend to fill up the freezer with a month’s worth of meals – ragu, chili, coq au vin, pulled pork, shredded chicken, meatballs, cassoulet, curry, chicken & sweetcorn soup, and beef bourgignon. – all packaged up  in “meals for two” sizes. Also did a bit of “building blocks” freezing – mashed potatoes (they freeze very well and can be refreshed with a bit of butter and milk on the day), breadcrumbs, chopped onions, stock and the like.


We really can eat for about a month without buying more than some occasional veg after one of these weekends.

After hesitating for all sorts of reasons – some practical, some stupid and some just my usual procrastination – I have undertaken to start baking regularly. At the moment, I define regularly as once a week – which is pretty regular when your previous schedule was next to never and once every three or four months. In the past 10 days I have done the following:

  • Victoria sponge with strawberry jam and buttercream filling
  • Chocolate chip cookies – yes, from scratch. None of this pre-packaged mix nonsense
  • a batch of super quick American style biscuits
  • a loaf of soda bread


I have some things on deck for the next phase – ginger snaps and brownies. Might also do a cobbler – or as it is more commonly called here in the UK a crumble. The apple tree and rest of the trees in what I like to think of as “TransAtlantic Orchards” need pruning back for the cooler weather. And another cookery weekend is on the calendar.

At TransAtlantic Towers, we don’t just write about food and talk about food – we wade in and get our hands in it too. :-)

Thyme And Thyme Again

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows…”

So begins one of the loveliest and headiest passages of poetry William Shakespeare ever wrote.  It hails, of course, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and is spoken by Oberon, King of the Fairies.


It’s absolutely right and proper that such an intoxicating speech should begin with a reference to thyme. This evergreen herb has almost magical properties in the kitchen, and a fair number of medicinal uses as well.

Used as an essential oil, it has powerful antiseptic properties. A tea brewed from thyme and honey is a fantastic natural remedy for sore throats, and thyme has also long been believed to be an excellent aid for a good night’s sleep. Indeed in the Middle Ages, people slept with sprigs of thyme under their pillows to ensure sweet dreams.  Long before the Romans brought thyme with them on their march through Europe, the Ancient Greeks were burning it as incense in their temples, believing it to be a source of courage.

So why does it seem like nobody since Oberon has been bigging up thyme? Why don’t we hear more about it? After all, it crops up just about everywhere in European, Mediterranean and Arab cuisine.

  • It’s an essential component of a bouquet garni (in fact you can’t really make a decent stock without thyme)
  • It is central to the classic “herbes de Provence”
  • It is found in that delicious Arab blend of herbs and spices, Za’atar.

Perhaps it’s precisely because thyme blends so well- and so frequently- that we don’t give it the full-on attention it deserves. It almost hides in plain sight, as it were. It’s as assertive a flavor in its own right as its Mediterranean cousins oregano and mint, but unlike those equally heady herbs, it blends well with other herbs. It adds a base herbal note that both softens and deepens the flavor of sage, and does the same for rosemary. And it blends equally well with spices as culturally diverse as saffron, cinnamon and paprika. In so many dishes from so many different cuisines, you might not notice the thyme is there, but the dish wouldn’t taste right if it wasn’t. Perhaps thyme is the Zelig of herbs.

Well I say enough of that. I say it’s time for thyme.

If vanilla is my favorite spice, then thyme is absolutely my favorite herb. It’s the herb I use most frequently, and for good reasons.

The first reason is of course its flavor. I love the headiness of thyme, how it is- for me- almost the definition of an “herbal” flavor. But it’s never overpowering. You don’t have to be as careful with thyme as you are with so many other herbs. Sage can be downright thuggish if not used sparingly, oregano can take herbal spiciness too far, and rosemary can be so stridently piney as to make a dish taste like floor cleaner. Thyme, however, has a more rounded taste; one that allows you to not only build it into the stock at the base of a risotto, but also to sprinkle the raw leaves through the dish to finish it off.

thyme_closeThe other reason is its texture. Although thyme is a “woody” herb, its leaves are themselves so tiny and soft that you barely need to chop them. They aren’t furry like sage or hard and sharp like rosemary, so mouth-feel is never an issue. And the fact that thyme is a “woody” herb means it’s also an oily herb. It’s those oils in the leaves and stems that allow thyme to stand up so well against the test of, well, time. It’s one of the few herbs that is actually as effective dried as fresh, though I’d spend that little bit extra on a good source rather than your supermarket variety-or just dry it yourself if such is your nature. And best of all, if bought fresh it lasts for absolute ages in the fridge. If like me, you lack the garden/window ledge/botanical ability to grow and keep fresh herbs (seriously, I could probably kill kudzu) then thyme is the herb for you. There are so many fresh herbs I regretfully buy for use in one meal, knowing full well that market forces (by which I mean the volume in which one is forced to purchase) mean that I’ll  wind up throwing a lot of it away.  Not so with thyme. I can  make a stock, add it to a stew, sprinkle it over scrambled eggs, lay a few sprigs under a piece of chicken I’m baking, scatter it over a salad or a piece of grilled meat or fish (thyme goes with just about all flesh),  or make that little decoction for a sore throat. That couple weeks rather than days that a bunch of thyme lasts in my fridge crisper drawer allows me to do whatever I want, and ensures that I’ll use just about every last little leaf.

One of my favorites uses for my favorite herb is in my favorite kitchen implement, the  pestle and mortar. Those tender thyme little leaves- even dried- break down so easily under a good grind, and marry beautifully with thyme’s natural partners garlic and salt, as to make a quick marinade or rub-or even a no-sauce pasta dish- incredibly quick and delicious. So here, to showcase how easy thyme is to use, and how it goes with everything, are three uses for thyme that I use, well, all the thyme.

Middle Eastern(ish) Rub for Lamb, Chicken or Fish


You will need:

  • 1 huge or two smaller cloves of garlic, peeled
  • a generous pinch of sea salt
  • the leaves from a few sprigs of thyme, enough for about 2 teaspoons
  • 2 heaped tablespoons sumac
  • a good grind of pepper
  • olive oil

What you do:

  • As above grind the garlic, salt and thyme together until you have a green paste, then add in the sumac and grind again.
  • Add enough olive oil and that good grind of pepper, teaspoon by teaspoon, until you have a loose- but by no means liquid- paste.
  • Then just rub all over your chosen piece of flesh and leave to marinate in a sealed container at room temperature for 1/2 hour.
  • After that grill your lamb or fish, or bake your chicken!

Spiced Steak Marinade

You will need:

  • 1 huge or two smaller cloves of garlic, peeled
  • a generous pinch of sea salt
  • the leaves from a few sprigs of thyme, enough for about 2 teaspoons
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • olive oil
  • red wine

What you do:

  • Throw the garlic clove , the sea salt, and the thyme into your pestle and mortar and give it a good grind.
  • Once the garlic has broken down and it’s starting to look like a green paste, add in the paprika and and cinnamon and grind again, until you have a sticky sludge.
  • Add enough olive oil to just loosen and moisten the paste, then the red wine, a teaspoon at a time, until you achieve a syrupy consistency.
  • Place your steak in a container, brush or spoon over half the marinade, then flip the same and pour the remaining marinade over he top.
  • Cover the container and leave to marinate at room temperature for 1/2 hour.
  • Then grill to your desired done-ness!

Spaghetti With Mushrooms, Garlic And Thyme


(Serves 1. Simply double up the amounts of pasta, mushrooms and butter to make this a speedy supper for two)

You will need:

  • 80g of dried spaghetti
  • 2-3 large brown mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • olive oil
  • 3 large knobs of butter
  • 1 huge or two smaller cloves of garlic, peeled
  • a generous pinch of sea salt
  • the leaves from a few sprigs of thyme, enough for about 2 teaspoons
  • 1 wine glass white wine (optional)

What you do:

  • While the water for the spaghetti is coming to the boil do your thing in the pestle and mortar with the garlic, sea salt and thyme, and bring a medium-sized frying pan up to a medium heat.
  • Once the water’s boiling, throw in the spaghetti and add the olive oil and 1 knob of butter to the frying pan. Once the butter starts to foam, throw in the mushrooms. Keep stirring and flipping the mushroom slices; you want them to cook evenly and not too quickly.  And don’t get worried. Mushrooms are very spongey, so the minute they hit the hot oil and butter they’ll absorb it. Your pan will look very dry for a few minutes but don’t worry. As the mushrooms themselves cook, they’ll start to release liquid back into the pan.
  • Once the mushrooms are starting to look meaty and cooked, add the rest of the butter into the frying pan, along with the garlic and thyme paste from the pestle and mortar, and stir well for a couple of minutes. After a minute you could also- should you have any to hand- chuck in a glass of white wine, and let that bubble and reduce in the buttery,  garlicky, thymey mushrooms mixture.
  • By now your spaghetti should be just al dente, so after checking that this is in fact the cse, drain your pasta (but not too thoroughly, and add it to the frying pan.  Using two big forks, stir and toss the pasta through the contents of the pan until the spaghetti strands are glistening and the mushrooms slices are well distributed.
  • Then simply decant into a large bowl and devour!

You could sprinkle some Parmesan over this, or even spike it up with chili flakes and lemon rind alongside the garlic and thyme (in which case I’d omit the butter and use more olive oil )- and indeed both the thyme and mushrooms go well with chili and lemon. But on an autumnal evening like this, when it’s not Midsummer,  I like it just the way it is.

Feeding Your Feelings In The Lonely Kitchen

Okay, so my name is Patrick and I’m a single foodie. By which I don’t mean I’m one single foodie among thousands (or millions if we’re talking about social media – I’m looking at you, Instagrammers), but rather that I’m a foodie and single.

And most of the time that’s a delicious way to live.

I can eat what I like when I like in whatever combination or volume strikes my fancy. I don’t have to watch my weight for some theoretical partner because their opinions about my weight or shape are also purely theoretical. As the old song goes, I don’t have to share a pair of pork chops when I crave champagne and cheese.

And I never, ever, have to cook broccoli.


But sometimes, just sometimes, life as a “singleton” can leave me feeling like they ran out of even the leftovers before it came to my serving.

That time is usually the weekend. When you’re single, weekends can be  the absolute worst. Your paired-up friends are all busy doing paired-up things; your other single friends are out on dates;  your hoped-for date has fallen through – all of which threatens to leave you two nights and days of free time suddenly opening like a black abyss, blacker than the work week to follow.

In short, weekends can be lonely.

It’s on those weekends that I get very tempted to “eat my feelings”, or-worse- drink them. It’s all too easy to erase “empty” time by diving into a magnum of cheap Prosecco or a catering-sized jar of peanut butter. And Lord knows I have. But that magnum of Prosecco will just leave me with a hangover with magnitude, and repeatedly eating my body weight in peanut butter is playing a numbers game that will ultimately severely affect either a) my colon, or b) the global peanut crop.


So instead of eating my feelings, I’ve learned to feed them.


I get generous with myself on those weekends. I cook and I think only of myself as I do so. The weekend that I’m feeling bereft and alone is the weekend that I spend my Saturday nursing a batch of ragu generous enough to feed me eight times in the weeks to come. That ragu eats time, and in the best way. You have to be around to stir them onions and garlic and oregano while they’re sauteeing, and then the ground beef needs its share of attention. You must stay engaged so you don’t miss the right time to add milk, then wine, followed by the tomatoes and passata at their appointed moment, before you can let it just simmer away for hours. None of that means you’re hiding from being alone. Quite the opposite. You are concentrating on being alone – on creating something for you alone and concentrating on making it delicious!

I won’t be eating that ragu on that Saturday and I won’t need to. Because that Saturday is also the day I’ll have taken some of the money I might have spent on a date and spent it on myself, buying a really good cut of steak and a small bottle of better wine for my dinner.

I’m not only generous with my time when cooking for myself but I’m generous with my time when shopping for myself as well. I’ll write myself a shopping list, but I won’t set myself a shopping deadline. The day is mine. I ignore the weekend crowds and their jostling and focus only on what I want. I basically take myself out on a food shopping date. And with only me to please, the odds are that I’ll get it right.

Once I’m home and the ragu is underway, it’s popcorn made in a big old pot — not a microwave, so it’s just as buttery and salty as I like — then it’s just me, the sofa and an old movie until it’s time for that steak dinner.

The dinner will also be done just how I like it. With some onions maybe, and on a bed of spinach that cooks under the steak when I lay that seared black (but totally blue on the inside) steak on top. Because that’s how I like it.

And, just before bed, ladling my cooled-down ragu into little single-serving containers and popping them happily into the freezer.


My “Feed My Feelings” Sunday is all about scrambled eggs with mushrooms on toast for brunch, and again, it’s not like it’s a stressful thing to cook. There’s no self-imposed  pressure of trying to perfect an omelet. There’s just me throwing a few sliced mushrooms into a frying pan with butter and then, once they’ve browned and are giving up their juices again, adding in a couple of beaten eggs and some chives and stirring for the couple of minutes it takes them to cook. Slap the result on a couple of pieces of buttered toast and my mood is instantly gregarious, and set for the day.

On that evening, once the laundry and other Sunday chores that we all have, single or not, are done, I could go for a  helping of that delicious ragu. A big bowl of pasta in front of Sunday night tv never goes amiss. But on those weekends that have, as a dear friend put it, “become a ME weekend”, I have a better plan.

Crab linguine with lemon, fennel, garlic and chili.

It’s a fantastic dish I normally reserve for when I want to impress an impromptu date who’s wound up back at mine and hungry. But why wait? I am at mine and I am hungry — and taking this from recipe from dinner for two to dinner for one needs only one gloriously self-serving alteration. So why not just make it for myself? My belief in this plan was affirmed when a dear friend of mine did exactly the same thing.

Feeding my feelings is different than eating my feelings. When I’m feeding my feelings, I’m feeding the feeling that I am worth not just feeding, but feeding well. I’m feeding the feeling that I am worth a sexy delicious dinner, regardless of whether I have company or not. It’s about quality, not quantity. It’s the steak I spent money on rather than a round of drinks at the bar. If somebody else cares to join me, that’s great. But I’m having this either way.


As for the crab linguini – it’s an extremely quick dish to make that serves very well as a sexy precursor to goings-on with a date but is equally fantastic as me-time dish for you, the sofa, and maybe some ever-so-slightly dirty tv. Because single or not, it does one good to round off a weekend.


You will need:

  • 80g dried linguine
  • three generous glugs of olive oil, or enough to generously coat the base of a small frying pan
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced.
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon dried chili flakes, depending on how hot you like it
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • the grated rind of a lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 120g of cooked white crab meat
  • a small handful of parsley, loosely chopped.

What you do:

  • In your pasta pot, get your linguine cooking in plenty of salted boiling water. Once the linguine is in, add the olive oil, garlic, and lemon rind into a medium frying pan and set on a low heat.
  • Keep stirring the pasta as it cooks (because you should) and keep an eye on the garlic, chili and lemon rind as they come up to heat and start to sizzle in the pan.
  • Once they’re fragrant, and when you think the garlic is about to actually turn brown, add the lemon juice to the pan, give it a good whisk, and turn off the heat. Basically, you’ve just made a fabulous warm vinaigrette.
  • Once the pasta is just al dente, drain it, then, if your frying pan is big enough, add the linguine to the frying pan, or tip it back into the pasta pot and tip the warm vinaigrette over it. This is where you throw in the cooked crab meat and the parsley. Toss thoroughly, then decant it into a bowl, take the bowl to the sofa, and turn on your favorite Sunday night tv.

The recipe alteration? That crab is enough for double that amount of pasta, but who cares? It’s for YOU!

When you are feeding your feelings, you aren’t indulging your loneliness. You are affirming your taste buds and what you want out of life, as opposed to what you’re getting. It’s not about drowning yourself in bowl of food, but rather celebrating that you can provide, that you can satisfy. It is about the process of being you. It’s about, in the kitchen at least, showing your appreciation for YOU. And that’s more than good enough.

That’s probably damn tasty.

And the Winner Is … GBBO 2015

A slightly different format this week as it was THE BIG FINALE.


But a quick note:  I would so watch “Baking with Nadyia & Tamal” – someone make this happen. What is the point in having friends “in the biz” if they can’t make my dream shows happen? Seriously, they are hilarious and adorable and I want them to go on baking adventures together – him wise-cracking and her pulling faces and the baking being glorious.

Signature Round: iced buns, filled.

  • Ian: I get the idea but surely, surely Ian tried this at home a few times before bringing it into the tent. I mean, his wife described and we saw the state of the kitchen due to his practice runs. So why the miscalculation on the buns? How could he not know that leaving the sugar out was going to be a problem and leave it tasting, as Paul pointed out, like ‘a crispy bap with icing on it.”


  • Tamal: Timing again, Tamal? At this late stage, it really should not be happening. And quite honestly, not flavouring the icing was a bad call. That said, your citrus marmalade obviously went down a treat.
  • Nadyia – Sure, everyone else is batch baking but so what. Just because Paul is hung up on finger shaped buns with tears on the side doesn’t mean it HAS to be that way. You bake the way you want and make it awesome. Mary says they can be round – and so they can.


Technical Challenge: Raspberry millefeuille

  • Ian: actually not as precise as I woulkd have thought from Ian, who is normally HUGELY precise. And I was also surprised that in addition to waffling about what to use the sugar syrup, Ian produced a weak syrup. This challenge had Ian written all over it. But the use of pastry – which as they all soon realized was aimed at them because they’d all struggled with it – was a stumbling block.
  • Tamal: in addition to timing, Tamal’s other weakness was precision – as was pointed out to him last week and the week before. In the final, you need to have taken it on board – but the timing issue once again reared it’s head and left Tamal rushing. Result, sloppy (and sloping) millefeuille.
  • Nadyia: Let’s be honest – no one’s millefeuille was going to live up to Paul’s standards this week but Nadyia’s came the closest. I’ve never understood raspberry millefeuille, to be honest. It looks like a nightmare to eat – it’s so TALL!

The Showstopper: A British Classic, multi-tiered and OMG the tension!!!


  • Ian: I have to say, I thought Ian’s Stepped Carrot Cake was impressive in scale but NOT decorated to Ian-ish standards. And he forgot the oranges until the last minute – which in retrospect worked out since Mary thought that was a lovely twist. So, maybe it looked a bit under decorated to me -but apparently it tasted divine.
  • Tamal: Pushing the boat out, Tamal produced not only a British classic cake (fruit cake) but a British classic pudding (sticky toffee pudding) AS a British classic cake – triple layer Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake. Add in all that sugar work and my GOD what a vision! Figs, dates, oranges, lemons and prunes all went into the cake. Then it was doused with toffee sauce and connected with massive sugar cobwebs.


  • Nadyia: Well damned – not only was it going to be classic, it was going to be an emotionally charged classic too. Nadyia made ‘My Big Fat British Wedding Cake’ – a giant, multi-tiered lemon drizzle decorated with jewels from her wedding day and a red, white and blue sari. She made her own fondant – her use of marshmallows was a surprise to Mary who decided it was the best thing ever. Her precision was evident the second they use the cake and the consistency was PERFECT.

The showstopper round also produced, for me, one of the BEST moments in all of GBBO history:

Paul: “Happy, Nadyia?”
Nadyia: “Yes.
*stares back*
Nadyia: Happy, Paul?”

Oh Paul Hollywood – you are a glorious bastard, you know that? But Nadyia is on to you know. You caught her out the first couple of times with the “pause and stare” routine but she’s TOTALLY got your number and she knows you are a marshmallow inside.

And then the baking … was over.


And then the BIG moment. Who would win? Here at TransAtlantic Towers, we were pretty confident going in that we knew who it would be and the results of the three rounds above made us even more sure.


Next thing you know, everyone is crying – Nadyia, Tamal, Ian – even MARY, for crying out loud (no pun intended). MARY BERRY got choked up and walked off camera.

And let’s just take a minute to think about this, Nadyia’s piece to camera after she won:

‘ I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can do it. I’m never gonna say “maybe”. I’m never gonna say “I don’t think I can”. I can and I will. ’

Forget cake for a minute. That is not about making a cake. It’s about DOING something, gaining a skill – whatever skill you’ve decided to tackle – finding you have a knack, enjoying it, expanding your knowledge and gaining the confidence that comes with having achieved.