Making delicious, mouth-watering meals doesn’t have to involve a manic food frenzy in the kitchen, assures Fay Ripley.
Best-loved for her role as Jenny in hit late-Nineties series Cold Feet, the London-born actress has reinvented herself as a foodie in more recent years, and even won the Mumsnet Best Cookbook award for her first recipe book, Fay’s Family Food, published in 2009.
As a busy, working mum-of-two, 48-year-old Ripley’s inspiration for her latest cookbook, Fay Makes It Easy, came from wanting to put the love back into cooking, eating and sharing food.
“I now have more books than kids. My family and friends are the tick in my clock and sharing time and great food with them is what makes the grotty bits of life palatable,” she reveals.
There are 100 delicious recipes that the actress says will “strip away stress like fake tan covers up cellulite”.
She doesn’t shy away from the more difficult dishes, like steak with a red wine and rosemary sauce, and tackles her crusty sunflower loaf with ease, using everyday ingredients and simple instructions.
“There’s also a double serving of desserts that will make you look like a genius, while leaving time for a cuppa and a box set,” she promises.
Ripley believes that every meal has the potential to be a celebration and wanted to take away the stress of what to cook when her friends, family — and grown-up girl crush — came over for dinner.
“Once, when preparing an elaborate lamb dish that needed marinating for 40 days and 40 nights and a huge pavlova that was so big, I made a plate out of egg boxes and foil.”
But, 20 minutes before the guests arrived, a text was sent saying that her grown-up girl crush and husband no longer ate dairy, meat, wheat, sugar or alcohol. “I had 15 minutes to produce a meal for the guests of honour using only a tin of mung beans and some coconut water.”
A burning loaf and a smoke-filled kitchen inspired her to set some simple guidelines, in order to make the cooking experience a whole lot more pleasant: “I pledged some rules to make life easier, to make life fun, so that I could enjoy sharing our food without beads of sweat dripping into the gravy.”
She says too many ingredients means there is always something you can’t find, don’t have or simply forget to put in.
“Too much preparation means you don’t get to brush your hair or teeth before it’s time to eat.
“My food always comes from my kitchen and my heart.”
Here’s hoping these three recipes from Fay Makes It Easy will solve a few problems and put smiles on faces, including yours.
MOROCCAN ZA’ALOUK FISH SUPPER WITH COUSCOUS: (serves 4)
6 medium aubergines
4tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2tsp smoked paprika
1tsp ground cumin
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1tsp harissa paste
4 x 150-175g skinless, boneless white fish fillets (cod or haddock will do)
2tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
Salt and pepper
For the Couscous:
Juice of 1 lemon
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C fan/220C/gas mark 7.
Cut four of the aubergines in half lengthways. Put them on an oven tray and rub the cut sides with two tablespoons of olive oil and some seasoning.
Cut the other two aubergines into big, bite-sized pieces, toss in a tablespoon of olive oil and spread out on a separate oven tray. Pop both trays in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the flesh of the aubergine halves are soft and the smaller pieces are crisping up. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan, cook the garlic, paprika and cumin for a minute, then add the tinned tomatoes and harissa paste. Stir over the heat for another minute.
Now scrape the flesh out of the halved aubergines into the tomato sauce, season and stir to completely combine. Keep the aubergine pieces to one side.
Put the fish fillets in a large, ovenproof dish and cover with the sauce. Pop back in the oven for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the fish cooked through.
For the couscous, in a large bowl, pour 350ml boiling water over the couscous. Cover and leave for five minutes. Fluff with a fork, season and dress with the lemon juice and olive oil.
Serve the fish on top of the couscous, then scatter over the chopped mint and the aubergine pieces.
LEMON & PISTACHIO CAKE: (serves 8)
125g shelled pistachios
150g softened butter
150g unrefined golden caster sugar
150g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
2 large eggs
Juice of 2 lemons
150g lemon curd (half a jar)
75g icing sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/gas mark 4 and line the base of a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper.
In a food processor, grind 100g of the pistachios (keep the rest for the top) to crumbs. Add the butter, sugar, flour and almonds and whizz to combine. Then pop in the eggs and whizz again. Finally, add the juice of one lemon and whizz to bring it all together.
Scrape half the mixture into the base of your tin and smooth it out. Then roughly spread the lemon curd over the top but not quite to the edge.
With the remainder of the mixture, drop dollops over the lemon curd layer to cover and gently smooth with the back of a spoon.
Roughly chop the rest of the pistachios by hand and scatter over the top. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely in the tin.
For the icing, just mix together the icing sugar and one-and-a-half tablespoons of lemon juice, stirring into a paste. Criss-cross the top of your cake and leave for a couple of minutes to set.
CHICKEN WITH BEANS ONE-POT WONDER: (serves 4)
2tbsp olive oil
8 big, skinless, boneless chicken thighs
2 large leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
1tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
120ml dry white wine
250ml chicken stock
2tsp grainy mustard
2 x 400g tins flageolet beans, drained, but not rinsed
3 slices Serrano ham (or Parma ham)
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
Heat half the olive oil in a heavy-based casserole dish or large non-stick pan. Brown the chicken thighs until the outside looks nutty all over. Remove and set aside.
Throw in the leeks with a second glug of oil. Soften for two to three minutes, then add the rosemary and garlic for another minute.
Stir in the wine and let it bubble for two to three minutes, stirring all the good stuff off the bottom of the pan. Add the stock, mustard and beans, then tear in the ham.
Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, pop a lid on and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Throw in the parsley.
Serve with crusty wholemeal bread to soak up those juices.
Fay Makes It Easy by Fay Ripley is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Available now