Here are my personal top ten!
1. Toad in the Hole.
I'd not had toad in the hole since I was a kid and my parents were skint. We thought it to be an amazing treat, my mum would make it when pennies were short. Cheap and filling. My kids were sceptical. I even called Robert Elms on BBC Radio London, and started a show long conversation about toad in the hole. As Clare doesn't eat meat, I ended up making three. A traditional one, using cumberlands, my own spin using Chorizo sausages (sourced from Boucherie Gerard in Daws Lane, only the best!) and Clare's using Linda McCartneys, which are the best of the meat frees. To my great joy, this was an unqualified success. It was agreed that the results were delicious.
2. Chocolate cake.
I don't have a sweet tooth, but it was my daughters birthday at the start of April. I promised her I'd bake her a chocolate cake. Again there was much scepticism. But I figured a chocolate cake would be the easiest of any of the possible alternatives and as she's a chocoholic, I figured it was an easy win. It turned out really well. Unusually, I followed the recipe to the letter, cakes don't inspire me, so I figured "stick to the rules". The only small wrinkle was that I bought a packet of flakes to garnish it and they got scoffed on the sly before I started. My only real piece of advice for ultra novice bakers like me, is follow the recipe and make sure the temperature is right. Most ovens don't cook at the temperature they say on the dial.
3. The classic Barbeque.
We have had a good few of these. If you want to do it properly, there are a few rules. Firstly never buy a gas barbeque. They simply don't do the job properly and are for lazy people, who do not truly appreciate food. Don't get me wrong, if you just want to cook sausages and burgers quickly to scoff with lots of beer, it is OK, but if you really want to have tasty food, use proper lump charcol. Secondly, get the best quality produce you can. Again Gerard does the best sausages, burgers, chicken and kebabs. Third, always marinade the chicken first and then cook fully in the oven, only using the Barbeque to char and blacken the skin. Fourth, if you are doing fish and prawns, buy another barbeque and have two going, otherwise you will taint the taste of the meat. Halloumi stuffed peppers, sweetcorn and pineapple are amongst the best veggie/vegan items.
4. The Sunday Roast.
I've been making this for decades, but I have been experimenting and found a significant upgrade. Firstly, I have found that if you fry the beef to seal it, then bake it in silver foil, it is far juicier and tastier than if you just stick the joint in uncovered. How did I not know this before. Also cook it longer and on a bit lower setting than it says on the packet. Of course I buy the best joints, so they don't have instructions, so I work it out. There are online measurements. The second thing is the Roast potatoes. I have always par boiled for ten minutes, but have found that if you then fry them in oil, with pepper and garlic salt for five minutes before you bake them they are infinitely better.
5. Aubergine Miso.
This was a request from my daughter, who is also a veggie and loves Japanese cooking. I just found a recipe on the BBC website and followed it. I baked the Aubergine for slightly longer than recommended, which seemed to be a good move. Daughter and wife declared it delicious. I may well reprise this for the next barbeque. I suspect with charred skin, it could be even better. I used the spare miso sauce to make a Miso pepper, which I think was even better. You need to get many of the ingredients from a specialist Japanese food shop. It is worth it.
6. Spanish Tapas.
One of my favourite treats is a trip to the Barcelona Tapas Bar in Middlesex Street. Sadly, it is shut. We always joke with the owner David that we are shareholders, as we have been going since it was an underground basement in Petticoat Lane. These days, you see the stars of the local Spanish speaking community there, I have spotted Pablo Zabaletta, the former Man City and West Ham footballer (a hero of mine) in there. We've been having a regular Tapas night. I try and recreate the treats from the Barcelona menu. The Gambas, Patas Bravas, Chorizo diablo and Tortilla are easy to make and very tasty. My family have become fans. My daughters boyfriend has been helping making the Tortilla's, his Grandpa is Spanish and lives in Spain. He's a fine lad.
7. Puttanesca Spaghetti.
There are many different Italian pasta dishes. For making at home, Puttanesca is the best. The secret is the anchovies. Don't try to be too clever or too flash. Just stick to it and serve with a very good red wine. Of all the quick and easy dishes, this is the best. I love proper italian food. Nothing annoys me more than when celebrity chefs take great dishes and then try and be clever. It never really works.
8. Rocket Fuel Soup.
This is one of m favourites. At the moment, it can be enhanced significantly by the addition of wild garlic that can be collected at various local sites (that I am not telling you about). I have listed the recipe before, so here it is. Since I published this, I've ditched the tinned tomatoes and use fresh ones, boil them whole for five minutes then peel and squash, far better.
9. Thai style Prawns with Noodles.
A very quick and easy dish that is very tasty. A bag of frozen uncooked prawns, some peppers, some tomatoes, garlic, chilli, olive oil and the secret ingredient, a dollop of sunpat peanut butter (other brands are available). Never use cooked prawns, they will be dry and chewy. Probably the tastiest and quickest dish you can put together. If you really want to go to town, get some fresh squid at Elias Fishmongers in Mill Hill East and deep fry in beer batter (with added pepper, garlic salt and smoked paprika) as a starter. You could almost be in Bangkok, if it's sunny and you eat it in the Garden with a Tiger Beer.
10. Home made chorizo burgers.
Here's one for the barbecue. Boucherie Gerard does amazing chorizo sausages. These are amazing when chopped up and added to a home made pork burger. Get fresh, good quality Pork mince. Get about 1kg of pork mince, chop 8 chorizo sausages into small peices, mix in. Get two slices of bread, mash up in about 1/3rd cup of milk. Add pepper, garlic salt (and some fresh Garlic to taste), smoked Paprika, tumeric. Mix up and make into eight large burgers. Leave in the fridge to set for an hour, then fry or barbeque. Some recipes mix in an egg to bind. I generally do.
Putting this together has made me well hungry!