August 2009

Sometimes I daydream about roasting a chicken on Sunday, then using the leftover meat for a curry on Monday and then boiling down the carcass for chicken soup on the Tuesday.  The reality is that I barely have the time to Hoover the stairs, let alone pluck scraps of meat from a chicken carcass.


When Paul and I moved to Hackney I imagined myself pottering up to Broadway Market and buying our weekly groceries from a nice market stall.  I’ll probably get to know the stallholders by name, I thought.  But I think I’ve been once, and brought over priced cupcakes.


I like the idea of making my own bread or rolling out my own pasta, but who actually does this?! I work 9am – 6pm, Paul about the same.  For us toast and pasta are the things you cook when you don’t want to cook.  But chefs and food writers have laden them with guilt for me.  I feel anxious about my foodie credentials when I pour dried pasta in boiling water, and then stir in ready-made pesto and call it tea.


Our kitchen has one work surface, which is the size of a chopping board. We have two pans; one saucepan and one frying pan.   My blender is tucked in a corner; it shines at me optimistically every now and again, but I’ve only ever used it to make pesto, once. And it takes a long time to clean. And our dishwasher doesn’t work.


We don’t eat ready meals.  If I ever fancied lasagne or fish pie, I could knock one together. But they take bloody ages and pan and space issues make more complex dishes a bit of a pain. Chefs and food writers give me great pleasure, but I can’t imitate them. I don’t have the time or the resources.


Anyway, what I’m coming to realise is (and Paul is a great help here) that we can still eat healthy, fresh meals without spending a fortune or taking an age.  I love that these meals come together quickly and don’t need fancy ingredients. We buy most things from an online supermarket, topped up by our local corner shop. This salmon stir fry was one of the first meals I made when I realised I didn’t have to be slave to the stove to make inventive and delicious meals. It takes 15 minutes, using one pan. It also doesn’t matter if you don’t have all of the ingredients. I once reached for the wrong bottle and added balsamic vinegar instead of sesame seed oil. It tasted fine.



Salmon Stir Fry

You’ll need to chop everything first. You’ll need one frying pan or wok. This serves two hungry people.


2 salmon fillets

Thumb sized piece of fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves

2 red or green chillis (the ones corner shops sell)

2 teaspoons Chinese five spice

Soy sauce

Sesame seed oil

Vegetable/sunflower oil

2 packets ready to wok noodles (the thin or ribbon ones, we once tried it with Singapore flavoured ones and it was a bit weird)

1 bundle of spring onions

Enough vegetables for two people; I tend to use green beans, baby sweetcorn and a green pepper

1 lime

  1. Start by putting your salmon fillets in a bowl, finely chop one half of the ginger, one garlic clove and one of the chillies and add these, with one teaspoon of the 5 spice, to the bowl. Add a generous tablespoon of the soy sauce and the sesame seed oil, stir everything round and put the bowl in the fridge.
  2. Chop all the vegetables into similar sized batons. Chop the remaining ginger, garlic and chilli.
  3. Heat a tablespoon each of sesame seed, soy sauce and vegetable oil in your frying pan.  Add the ginger, garlic, chilli and 1 teaspoon of 5 spice. When it’s really hot add the vegetables. Cook until they look nice (about 4 minutes). Add the noodles and two tablespoons of water, maybe a splash more soy sauce. Cook until the noodles are cooked.
  4. Plonk all of this onto a waiting plate (good idea if it’s heated but don’t worry if not) then add the salmon fillets and all the nice marinade to the still hot pan. Cook on each side for 2ish minutes then split the noodles across two plates and add a salmon fillet on top of the noodles with a wedge of lime. 

Last night a lightning bolt struck me in the supermarket.  I staggered for a moment whilst the full weight of it hit me. Ginger Nut Crumble. Dear Lord why hadn’t this been done before! (Maybe it has but not by me or my mum or in any of the crumbles I’ve eaten).  On Saturday Paul’s Grandma had kindly given me an enormous bag of apples from her garden.  Whole hours of my day have since been lost pondering what two people could do with so many apples.  Then I had it; crumble, with custard yes, but also with ginger nuts.  Feast on this:


Ginger Nut Crumble

I didn’t weigh anything except the flour, butter and sugar for the crumble mix I’m afraid, the weights of which I got from here. Guessing for everything else worked fine.

You’ll need an oven proof dish.

For the crumble:

300g/10½oz plain flour + pinch of salt
175g/6oz brown sugar (normal sugar would be fine too)
200g/7oz unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature 


For the filing:

Enough hard fruit to fill your dish, chopped into bite sized pieces  (apples, rhubarb, peaches, nectarines (I used about 15 medium sized eater apples, 4 sticks of rhubarb and 2 nectarines. This made enough for 1 large crumble and 1 small one.  This is too much for two people so if anyone wants a crumble, let me know. Too late!)

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

1 tablespoons of flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

5cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped (optional)


For the making:

  1. Fill your dish up to the point that you want the crumble  mix to start. I didn’t peel anything, but I cored the apples.  
  2. Sprinkle over enough brown sugar so that each bit of fruit has some on, but don’t cover them or it will be very sweet. If you’re using cooking apples add more.
  3. Sprinkle the flour over
  4. Sprinkle the cinnamon over
  5. I also chopped up some fresh ginger very finely and squeezed a little bit of honey over, but I had gone a bit crazed at this stage so no worries if that doesn’t sound appealing.
  6. Mix the flour and sugar in a big bowl. Add the cubes of butter a few at a time and rub with your fingers until all the butter is add and it looks like breadcrumbs.
  7. Add on top of the fruit.
  8. Smash three  to five ginger nuts wrapped in a tea towel with an implement of good smashing abilities and sprinkle over the top of the crumble (remembering that crumble is nice if it goes crunchy so don’t totally cover it with ginger nuts).  I thought afterwards that you could lessen the amount of flour you use and add the ginger nuts crumbs into the crumble mixture.  I’ll try this next time and let you know!
  9. Put in the oven at 180C for about 40 minutes. Check it at 30 – the fruit should be bubbling out of the sides a little bit and the crumble should be browning.
  10. Eat in a bowl with custard or ice cream. (not out of the oven dish stood at the oven because you will burn your mouth. I learnt that the hard way)

DeboraJane 230809

Let me explain:

I am not a gourmet, and my poor housemates at university who once ate blue cabbage and frozen pork chops will agree: I am not always a great cook. Despite living in the same city as celebrity chefs and food critics, I just muddle along pretty averagely I suppose.

But I have always enjoyed cooking and eating.

Growing up, I’d occasionally boss my mum out of the kitchen and blend strange soups, cakes that went flat in the middle, and tofu stir-frys for my protein-shaking rugbyplaying brother. I had my vegetarian phase (boy-related and unsuccessful) and my secret teenage eating ‘problems’.

University was fairly uneventful food-wise, apart from some exotic meals travelling in the Far East, and the blue cabbage incident. But since leaving university and moving to the ‘Great Oven’ of London, and especially since moving into my little flat in Hackney with Paul, I’ve really started to love food.

I’ve stopped buying ready meals and started reading food blogs. I’ve been dazed and delighted by the cheapskate cafés on our doorstep. I plan meals. I dash from Vietnamese to Turkish with barely time for digestion.

In East London there are markets every weekend, and I cycle pass Smithfield butchers on the way to work. There are fancy establishments I never dreamed I would visit and more, more, more. Second helpings until I burst.

DeboraJane is a record of my culinary adventures. It is my way of pickling experience, or preserving things. Like making jam or salting mackerels.  (Not things I have tried yet.)

Mostly set in an ex-council flat in East London, the main characters will be two twentysomething graduates: we are poor, hardworking, and hungry. I hope our friends and family, and maybe more people too, will enjoy reading about what we get up to.

Bon appetite!