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What the hell is self-rising cake flour and, more importantly, where did I get it?

Recipe: Nigella’s Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

Cupcakes gone blond

So today my shining light of a daughter turns 18, which makes me 97, or maybe it just feels that way. Anyhow, with such an auspicious occasion to mark, I wanted to find an appropriate treat to cap the festive birthday dinner — traditionally the birthday girl’s choice, and as always she’s requested mac and cheese with grilled asparagus on the side.

Allegedly purchased by me, but when?

I found this delightfully easy recipe for chocolate cherry cupcakes in Nigella’s Domestic Goddess book, and was congratulating myself on coming up with the perfect marriage of the adult (sour cherries, dark chocolate) and the childish (cupcakes) in an incredibly simple recipe (bonus!), when I noticed that it called for self-rising cake flour. Now, this item struck me as just a tad exotic to have on hand, but lo and behold after a bit of frantic rummaging I did find some in the dark recesses of the pantry. It is, to say the least, unusual to find exactly what I need on any given day; however, given my customary frame of mind during a trip to Fairway, it is not surprising that I have in stock things I can’t recall ever buying.

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Nigella: You knew it would come to this sooner or later

Love her or hate her, Miss Lawson is for many the original short-cut taking, taste-as-you-go then eat-with-abandon kitchen slattern, and for that alone I will always be a fan. I stumbled upon Nigella Bites in 2001 and loved the show’s clever editing, Nigella’s girlfriend-y chatter and her refreshingly relaxed approach to both cooking and eating.

Over the years, however, as the domestic goddess juggernaut picked up steam, I began to feel a creeping unease, and by the time we got to Nigella Express in 2007, the experience of watching her cook had begun to make me squirm, and not in a good way. With adjectives multiplying like randy bunnies and the chatter taking on a, how shall I say, slightly overheated feel, the experience became more than I could reasonably endure, at least without a partner.

Witness the foreplay for a chocolate raspberry pavlova recipe:

“You just cannot beat a pav in summer, and in particular this dark beauty. The crisp and chewy chocolate meringue base, rich in cocoa and beaded nuggets of chopped plain chocolate, provides a sombre, almost purple-brown layer beneath the fat whiteness of the cream and matt, glowering crimson raspberries on top: it is a killer combination.”

Ooh, sorry. I just slid off the glistening seat of my rigid ebony desk chair, the fat whiteness of my pale, billowing ass tumbling with a surprising, yet somehow satisfying, plop onto the plush, mellow lusciousness of the ruby and citron carpet below.

Oh God, it’s happening again and all I’ve been looking at are YouTube videos.

My recommendation: Like that of the Rolling Stones, Nigella’s early work in both print and video is by far the best. Her cookbooks are worth buying, since most include several very good recipes and some great tips, for instance, when she suggests roasting beets rather than boiling them or serving deep fat fried Mars bars to your girlfriends, and don’t even think of telling me this does not appeal. If it doesn’t, you’re either hanging with the wrong crowd or need to get to Walmart more often, or both.

From Nigella Bites: Gingery-hot duck salad (because I find duck fat repulsive, I peel it off, melt a little in the pan to cook the duck, then chuck it as soon as humanly possible – up to you) and Vietnamese chicken and mint salad are fabulous, as is the recipe for Italian sausages and lentils.

In Forever Summer I like the cold beet soup. The slow cooked lemon garlic chicken is a real winner, too. The method is foolproof for producing meat that slides off the bone, though I usually omit the lemon and brush on barbecue sauce before the final high heat cooking time. Sticky, sweet and salty? You bet. That’s just the way I roll, but you may prefer the original.

Nigella and I part ways on the issue of mixing red and green ingredients in salads — I’m all for it, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to avoid the carrot and peanut salad; I tried it during my early, true-believer phase and it’s as delicious as it sounds. And let’s not even get into the watermelon, olive and feta salad. Even at the height of my fanaticism, I never even considered that one, no matter how convincing her argument in favor. Ugh.

And what is pavolva anyway?

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