On The Box

Gah! No recipes today as I am recovering for the ultimate cringe of watching myself on The Box, the BBC’s afternoon cookery show with James Martin. I entered on a whim but was super, super nervous when I went to film it. I’m not sure why as I’d been fine at the audition, but I just couldn’t shake it off and relax.

The Box. Emma, Matt, Clare

I felt I let myself down and was a bit sad about it afterwards. Culinarily, as I know I’m better than that, but mainly because I couldn’t enjoy what ought to have been a fun experience.

But I learned a lot about myself and how I cook, especially under pressure. I thought the challenge of responding to a collection of mystery ingredients would be right up my street as dinner is generally an improvisation on the theme of whatever’s in the vegetable rack. And after years as a national newspaper journalist deadlines don’t really phase me. But it turns out that I’m good at improvising when I’m relaxed and fine with pressure when I know what I’ve got to do.

If you didn’t it then the idea is that you get given a box of mystery ingredients and then have 50 minutes to make something. You’ve got access to a “pantry” with oils, spices, onions etc.

Box 1: chicken breast risotto rice, peppers, tomatoes, filo pastry, maple syrup, pistachio nuts, various cheeses.

I made a chicken breast stuffed with onion, garlic, mushroom, blue cheese and pistachio nuts. I ought to have seared the skin side in a pan to crisp and brown the skin before putting it in the oven. Rookie error. And the whole thing was a bit overly garlicky, due to my hands shaking too much to crush the stuff properly. The side dish of balsamic peppers came out well though.

Box 2: minute steaks, a potato, carrots, cabbage and red pepper. There isn’t really anywhere to hide with that lot. It was obvious the steaks would have to be pan fried really quickly and James Martin gave me a good tip to do it in slightly browned butter to get some colour on them. I put a little Dijon mustard and brown sugar on them for extra flavour but should have been braver with it.

I originally thought about doing a rosti alongside but the potato was very soggy after only a few minutes parboiling so decided on mash instead. Then it was lumpy so had to go through a sieve and become the much maligned puree…

Although all the veg was pretty tasty, in retrospect I think I’d do “chips” in the oven, instead of the caraway cabbage and honeyroast carrots, a slaw-style salad with the red pepper in it too and a caraway vinaigrette.

Both Emma and Matt were great though. Lovely people and very good cooks. They definitely produced better plates than me on the day and they managed to have fun too.

Ah well. Onwards and upwards. Normal service resumed on Wednesday...