BBC Good Food Magazine

BBC Good Food Magazine is the most popular and best selling food magazine in the British Isles. Novice cooks and chefs alike snap it up off the newsstands every month to pore over the glossy food photos, read about food issues and the latest trends and to find recipes for fast and slow foods.

Food-writer Angela Nilsen has contributed to the magazine for many years and has won both the Glenfiddich Cookery Writer Award and the Guild of Food Writers’ Cookery Journalist of the Year Award for her work on the ‘Ultimate’ series in BBC Good Food Magazine.

In this column Angela set out to find the ultimate recipe for many classic dishes. Through a mixture of research and trial and error she arrived at what she considers to be the foolproof version of many old favourites. Through a combination of her own research, testing and fine-tuning techniques, as well as consultation with distinguished chefs and writers for their insider tips and advice, Angela has come up with 50 definitive recipes. From making the perfect French Omelette with Raymond Blanc, to Apple-Pie inspiration with Gordon Ramsay, Angela has explored endless possibilities in her search for success, including the tastiest Fish Cakes (with a little help from Rick Stein) and a rich Thai Green Chicken Curry. She enlists the help of Gennaro Contaldo in creating the creamiest ever Spaghetti Carbonara and brunch expert Bill Granger for softly Scrambled Eggs. Even soups and salads prove a challenge, but Angela ends the debate once and for all on the likes of French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad, and kneads the ideal loaf of bread with baker Dan Lepard. Marshmallowy Meringues come with the aid of Mary Berry, the Aga Queen, and perfected recipes for Vanilla Ice Cream and Lemon Meringue Pie bring Angela’s journey to a delicious end.

It contains 50 definitive recipes and gives the background to every recipe, the testing, the discussions, the problems she faced – and then explains exactly how to make the best ever version with tips, hints and step-by-step photographs. So whether you are a novice or a practised cook, this book will earn its place on your kitchen shelf. 

Here are some of the ultimate recipes for you to try, but you’ll need to seek out the book to read about Angela’s journey to reach the ‘ultimate’.

The Ultimate Recipe Book by Angela Nilsen – published by BBC Books

Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves 4
Ready in 25-35 minutes

100g/4oz pancetta
50g/2oz Pecorino cheese
50g/2oz Parmesan
3 eggs, preferably organic
350g/12oz spaghetti (De Cecco is very good)
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
50g/2oz unsalted butter

1. Put a large saucepan of water on to boil. Finely chop the pancetta, having first removed any rind. Finely grate both cheeses and mix them together. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl, season with a little freshly grated ground black pepper and set everything aside.

2. Add 1 teaspoon salt to the boiling water, add the spaghetti and when the water comes back to the boil, cook at a constant simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until al dente (just cooked).

3. Squash the garlic with the blade of a knife, just to bruise it. While the spaghetti is cooking, fry the pancetta with the garlic. Drop the butter into a large wide frying pan or wok and, as soon as the butter has melted, tip in the pancetta and garlic. Leave these to cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the pancetta is golden and crisp. The garlic has now imparted its flavour, so take it out with a slotted spoon and discard.

4. Keep the heat under the pancetta on low. When the pasta is ready, lift it from the water with a pasta fork or tongs and put it in the frying pan with the pancetta. Don’t worry if a little water drops in the pan as well (you want this to happen) and don’t throw the rest of the pasta water away yet.

5. Mix most of the cheese with the eggs, keeping a small handful back for sprinkling over later. Take the pan of spaghetti and pancetta off the heat. Now quickly pour in the eggs and cheese and, using the tongs or long fork, lift up the spaghetti so it mixes easily with the egg mixture (which thickens but doesn’t scramble) and everything is coated. Add extra pasta-cooking water to keep it saucy (several tablespoons should do it). You don’t want it wet, just moist. Season with salt, if needed.

6. Use a long-pronged fork to twist the pasta onto the serving plate or bowl. Serve immediately with a little sprinkling of the remaining cheese and a grating of black pepper. If the dish does get a little dry before serving, splash in some more hot pasta water and the glossy sauciness will be revived.

Fish Chowder

Serves 4 as a light lunch or supper (easily halved)
200g (7oz) packet lardons
1 large knob of butter 
2 leeks (about 350g/12oz), thinly sliced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Small pinch of crushed dried chillies
2 bay leaves
650g/1lb7oz potatoes, Desiree are good, peeled and sliced thickly (about 5mm/¼ inch) thick (Angela recommends a floury/waxy variety of potato that would release starch to thicken the chowder, but would also hold its shape)
700ml/1¼ pints fish or chicken stock (from a good-quality cube or powder is fine)
450g/1lb skinless haddock (the fish should be a firm and lean variety)
150ml (5fl.oz) carton single cream
Roughly chopped fresh parsley for scattering

1. Heat a wide deep sauté pan. Tip in the lardons and fry until they have released their fat and have started to crisp. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper, putting to one side for later.

Drop the knob of butter into the pan and, as it sizzles, add the leeks, thyme, chillies and bay leaves and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes until starting to soften, but still bright green.

2. Tip in the potatoes, fry for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, then pour in the stock (it should just cover them). Boil over a high heat for 10 minutes, uncovered, until they are almost cooked through.

(No need to stir as the potatoes may break up). As they boil, their starch will be released and start to thicken the liquid.) 

3. Lay the whole fillets of fish on top of the potatoes so they are immersed as much as possible in the stock. Cover and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let sit, still covered, for 5 minutes so the fish can finish cooking gently. Pour in the cream and shake the pan (rather than stir) so it mixes in, as you don’t want to break up the potatoes and fish. Season with pepper – you may not need salt, depending on the stock you have used. The chowder can now rest for an hour or overnight in the fridge, which gives the flavours a chance to develop more. This is called ‘curing’.

4. To serve, scatter the lardons over. Warm the chowder gently, being careful not to let it boil. Lift the fish and potatoes out with a slotted spoon, letting the fish break into very big chunks as you do so. Pile them both in the centre of wide shallow bowls or plates. Spoon the liquid around and scatter with the chopped parsley.

Roast Chicken

Serves 4
1 lemon
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1.6-1.8kg/3½-4lb organic chicken, the best you can afford
Sprigs of bay leaves, or bunch of fresh tarragon
25g/1oz butter, and a bit extra to butter the tin
Wedges of red onion and/or carrot if you don’t have a rack, or 
1 large red onion, peeled and cut in thick wedges for optional gravy

1.Heat the oven to 190C/fan oven 170C/gas 5. Halve the lemon and prick all over many times with a skewer or toothpick – this releases the juices and adds fragrance to the chicken as it roasts. Push the onion and lemon into the cavity of the chicken, along with the bay or tarragon. Keep the other sprigs for garnish.

2.Melt the butter in a small pan or more quickly in the microwave and brush the chicken all over with a pastry brush, including the parts where the thighs meet the body of the bird. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper.

3.Now you have a choice. If you have a rack, sit the bird on that, on its side, propped up with balls of foil if the rack is flat. If not, put a few chunks of carrot, red onion or both on the bottom of a buttered roasting tin (choose one that the bird will fit into snugly) and sit the chicken on them.

4. Roast for 20 minutes on the first side. Then, if the bird is on a rack, scatter the red onion underneath if you want to make the gravy (see below).

Turn, then baste with some of the juices and roast for 20 minutes on the other side. A clean tea towel makes it easier to hang on to the bird for turning. Turn the chicken breast-side up, keep the wings tucked under and baste again. Discard any foil and roast for another 30-40 minutes until really golden. To test whether the chicken is cooked, push a skewer into the fleshiest part and if the juices are clear, rather than pink, it is done. Or give the legs a bit of a tug – the chicken is done if they wiggle and move away from the body easily. If not, roast a bit longer.

5.Lift the chicken out of the oven and leave it to relax, loosely uncovered with foil, for 10-15 minutes. Sit it on your best platter and tuck a few bay sprigs in the cavity.

Simple creamy gravy – 

Angela Nilsen says she ‘picked up a great tip for a quick gravy from food writer Jeni Wright.’ Scatter a red onion, in wedges, in the bottom of the roasting tin for the last 50 minutes. Remove the chicken from the tin and, while it rests, tip a 250g carton of crème fraiche into the tin with the onion and juices and heat through, stirring. If you want to make it go further, pour in some stock.

Crème Brûlée

Serves 4
2 cartons double cream, 1 large (284ml) plus 1 small (142ml)
100ml/3½ fl.oz full-fat milk
1 vanilla pod
5 egg yolks, preferably organic
50g/2oz golden castor sugar, plus extra for the topping

Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Sit four 175ml/6fl.oz ramekins in a deep roasting tin at least 7.5cm/3in deep (or a large deep cake tin), one that will enable a baking tray to sit well above the ramekins when laid across the top of the tin. Pour the two cartons of cream into a medium pan with the milk. Lay the vanilla pod on a board and slice it lengthways through the middle with a sharp knife to split it in two. Use the tip of the knife to scrape out all the tiny seeds into the cream mixture. Drop the vanilla pod in as well, and set aside. 
Put the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for 1 minute with an electric hand-whisk until paler in colour and a bit fluffy. Put the pan with the cream on a medium heat and bring almost to the boil. As soon as you see bubbles appear round the edge, take the pan off the heat. 
Pour the hot cream into the beaten egg yolks, stirring with a wire whisk as you do so, and scraping out the seeds from the pan. Set a fine sieve over a large wide jug or bowl and pour the hot mixture through to strain it, encouraging any stray vanilla seeds through at the end. Using a big spoon, scoop off all the pale foam that is sitting on top of the liquid (this will be several spoonfuls) and discard. Give the mixture a stir. 
Pour in enough hot water (from the tap is fine) into the roasting tin to come about 1.5cm/ 5/8 inch up the sides of the ramekins. Pour the hot cream into the ramekins so you fill them right up to the top (its easier to spoon in the last little bit). Put them in the oven and lay a baking sheet over the top of the tin so it sits well above the ramekins and completely covers them, but not the whole tin, leaving a small gap at one side to allow air to circulate. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the mixture is softly set. To check, gently sway the roasting tin and if the crème brûlées are ready they will wobble a bit like jelly in the middle. Don’t let them get too firm. 
Lift the ramekins out of the roasting tin with oven gloves and set them on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes only, then put in the fridge to cool completely. This can be done overnight without affecting the texture. 
When ready to serve, wipe round the top edge of the dishes, sprinkle 1½ teaspoons of caster sugar over each ramekin and spread it out with the back of a spoon completely. Spray with a little water using a fine spray (the sort you buy in a craft shop) to just dampen the sugar, then use a blow torch to caramelize it. Hold the flame just above the sugar and keep moving it round and round until caramelized. Serve when the brûlée is firm, or within an hour or two. 

Foolproof Food

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 36-40, depending on size
So much nicer than any you buy and really quick and easy to make. You can keep some dough in the fridge or freezer.
Try to get really good quality chocolate chips – its worth the difference

225g (8 oz) butter
200g (7 oz) brown sugar
165g (6 oz) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
340g (12 oz) plain white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
150 g (5 oz) chocolate chips
100 g (3½ oz ) chopped nuts - hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Cream the butter, add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add in the egg bit by bit, then the vanilla essence.

Mix the dry ingredients together and fold them in. Lastly, add the chocolate chips and the chopped nuts.

Divide the mixture into 7g (¼ oz) pieces, for teeny weeny pieces, or 30g (1oz) for medium sized or 55g (2oz) for American style cookies onto baking sheets. Remember to allow lots of room for spreading. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, depending on size. Cool for a few minutes on the tray and then transfer to wire racks. Store in an airtight container.

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About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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