Yup. I’m here to tell you how to bake some potatoes. They’re a little bit fancy though – perfect for someone who’s celebrating the end of a cooking slump but also needs straight-up comfort food because she’s bored of watching everyone else have a good time on Instagram.

Social media has really done my head in recently, which is a weird thing to say because I know that’s where you’ve probably just come from. I posted a link to Instagram and you followed it? Thank you for doing that. But social media (be it Twitter, Instagram or Facebook) is a place that buoys you up when you’re up and kicks you hard when you’re down and that’s something I only tangentially understood until recently.

As I said, I’ve been in something of a rut, culinarily speaking. Coming out of it has been a little like watching a sunrise: at first, there’s a barely detectable change, incrementally increasing until a familiar warmth spreads through everything. Being creative on demand is tough until you get good at it and then suddenly there can be a period of weeks or months where you can’t grasp hold of the ideas anymore.

These potatoes may not be the most revolutionary idea I’ve ever come up with but they hit the spot. The confit garlic and pickled mushrooms are both very easy – it just takes an hour or so to make them both. This is perfect if you’re emerging from a cooking coma and want to potter in the kitchen of an afternoon but if you can’t be bothered then why not just roast the potatoes with some garlic? And perhaps garnish them with some shop-bought cornichons? At the end of the day, it’s just a plate of cheesy potatoes. Don’t stress.

I’ve been contacted by a few food writers over the past few weeks who’ve let me know they often experience a similar phenomenon: a malaise that starts to become a vicious circle of not cooking + feeling rubbish. I’m beginning to think it’s part and parcel of being creative, something akin to sleeping where ideas and experience assimilate into something more foundational. I hope so at least.

Today shall be spent cooking an incredible Fosse Meadows chicken we found at the market in Herne Hill, along with a beer and sourdough bolstered celeriac gratin – both of them on the barbecue. I’m back in business and I’m loving it. However, my message to any cooks out there who feel like they can only manage a Deliveroo while lying on the sofa is this: please don’t feel guilty. The love will return because it’s too deep-seated to go away for very long.

Fancy Baked Potatoes Recipe (with Gorgonzola, pickled chanterelles and confit garlic)

Serves 4

1 kg new potatoes
Gorgonzola (a few chunks per serving)
Tarragon, leaves picked
Chives, finely chopped
Olive oil
Confit garlic (see method below or alternatively, chuck some in the oven with the potatoes)
Pickled chanterelles (see method below or serve with shop-bought pickles such as cornichons)

Preheat the oven to 190C/170fan/Gas 5

Put the potatoes in a roasting dish, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some coarse salt (be generous) and roast for an hour, or until tender on the inside and crisp and wrinkled on the outside.

To assemble the dish, preheat a grill.

Place some potatoes onto plates and crush lightly, then top with chunks of Gorgonzola and pop under the grill under the cheese has melted. Garnish with pickled chanterelles, confit garlic cloves, chopped chives and tarragon leaves. Extra garlic oil and salt might be a good idea.

For the confit garlic

4 bulbs garlic
Olive oil (enough to cover the garlic in the pan)

Peel all the garlic cloves and add them to a saucepan. Cover with olive oil so they are totally submerged.

Bring to a very light simmer then reduce to the lowest heat possible and cook for 40 minutes. The idea is to very gently poach the garlic, so the oil should not be bubbling. I find a heat diffuser (of the type you use for a tagine) is very handy here but it’s not necessary.

Once cooked, transfer to a clean jar and cover with the oil. IMPORTANT: It’s very important that you store confit garlic and garlic oil properly because it can breed botulism. As soon as the garlic and oil are cool, store in the fridge. Do not keep either at room temperature.

For the pickled chanterelles

150g chanterelles
150ml white wine vinegar
30ml water
3 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
Few black peppercorns
Pinch chilli flakes

In a jug, combine the vinegar, water, honey, half a teaspoon of the salt, peppercorns and chilli flakes. Stir to combine.

Put a frying pan or saucepan over medium heat and add the chanterelles (no need to add butter or oil). Cook, stirring until the mushrooms begin to release their water.

Add half a teaspoon of the salt and continue to cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the vinegar mixture and bring to a boil then reduce and simmer for 5 minutes then transfer to a clean jar.

I first came across hasselback potatoes on American food blogs, years ago now. Thing is, it’s actually a Scandinavian recipe named after the restaurant Hasselbacken in Stockholm where they were invented (I’d always thought it was something to do with their backs being all ‘hassled’ by cuts*). The keys to their success are firstly the cutting and roasting technique and secondly, the application of a serious amount of butter.

With creamy innards and lots of crisp edges on top, this recipe delivers pretty much everything you want from potatoes in one package. Like many cooks, I season mine heavily and slip garlic in between the slices but it’s fun to go a step further occasionally – here I’ve topped them with crumbled Stilton, bacon and chives.

It occurred to me that these would make fantastic party food so I’m sharing the recipe. It’s simple, almost impossibly delicious and looks festive to boot. Job done mate.

*Not really LOL.

Hasselback Potatoes with Garlic, Stilton and Bacon Recipe

12 King Edward potatoes
7 cloves garlic
50g butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 rashers back bacon

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Cut slices 2mm apart 3/4 of the way through each potato.

Melt the butter with the olive oil. Place the potatoes in a roasting dish and push slices of garlic into the slits, making sure they are pushed right in, or they will burn. Pour the butter and oil mixture over the potatoes and add 100ml water to the dish. Turn the potatoes over to make sure they’re well coated. Season heavily with salt and pepper.

Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, basting with butter every 10 to 15 minutes, or until they’re tender inside and golden and crisp on top. Don’t skip the basting.

During this time, grill or fry the bacon until very crisp, then chop finely. I then re-crisped mine in a pan.

Once cooked, serve sprinkled with the bacon bits, crumbles of blue cheese and snipped chives. You can also serve drizzled with more butter from the pan. Why not?

Recipes are very rarely ‘original’ these days unless you’re the man on Come Dine with Me who served a viscous, beige stew inside a castle made of toast, or Rachel from Friends attempting a trifle. Even if you think you’re the first to come up with a particular arrangement of ingredients, someone else has probably had the same inspiration. Recipes are constantly tweaked, adapted, repackaged and resold in different ways.

The idea of covering things in scalloped potatoes is nothing new (stewed meat for example, or a fish pie) but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it over a joint before, like cucumber ‘scales’ on a whole salmon. I say that as someone who hasn’t embarked on even the laziest of Googles. Still, someone somewhere will have done it. Get in touch, fellow genius, for this is one of the greatest potato and lamb combos ever conceived, and I can say that with full enthusiasm because it was not my idea.

Having acknowledged how incredible this was I have to say that we both thought it was destined to fail. How would the potato slices stick to the lamb and not slide off during cooking? Answer: sprinkle with potato flour. We also wrapped the scaled lamb leg in clingfilm once roasted to allow the slices to ‘set’ into shape, then carefully unwrapped and slung it into a hot oven to cook the potatoes and get them good and crisp. Miraculously, it emerged in fully burnished armour.

You get the name, right? It looks like an armadillo but it’s made with lamb. That’s got to be an original.

The Baaa-madillo (a crispy potato coated slow roast leg of lamb recipe)

I recommend adding a layer of potatoes underneath the lamb too, ensuring you get a good haul of lamb fat soaked spuds – actual heaven (and not a new idea).

1 leg of lamb (around 2kg bone-in)
1 tablespoon oil (veg or groundnut)
2 sprigs rosemary
1 whole head of garlic
Around 6 floury potatoes, cut into thin slices using a mandoline
Potato flour

Preheat the oven to 160C.

Place the lamb in a roasting tray and score the fat on top. Rub with the oil and season really well with salt and pepper. Roughly chop the rosemary and add that too. Lob the whole garlic bulb into the roasting tray.

Cook for around 45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads around 45C at the centre (this isn’t cooked enough yet but you are putting it back in the oven).

Lay a sheet of clingfilm on a work surface and layer the potatoes on it, overlapping (see picture above). Sprinkle evenly with potato flour as shown, then lay the lamb on top, fat side down. Now you need to carefully mould the potatoes around the lamb leg without them all shifting around. Let those you don’t need fall away (e.g. you won’t cover the base of the lamb leg) and rearrange any that have moved. It’s not TOO hard if there’s two of you doing it, although I say this as someone who has made the above recipe precisely once. Rigorously tested it ain’t – go forth, culinary adventurer.

Wrap the clingfilm really tightly around the lamb leg, adding a couple of extra layers once secured, and leave to sit for 45 minutes. Whack the oven up to 220C.

Place lots more potato slices in the roasting tray to make the best potato crisps you’ve ever eaten. Carefully remove the clingfilm and place the lamb back on top of the potatoes. Cook for approximately 15 minutes then turn the oven up to 280C (or as hot as your oven will go) for a final 5 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

I first tasted sabich in Tel Aviv a couple of years ago. I’d become so obsessed with the idea of tasting one, in fact, I made a point of seeking out as many as possible, managing just three. That number looks a bit more impressive when you consider that I went on a mad dash around the city in the few hours I should’ve spent packing for the airport, and I was eating sabich right up until I buckled into my seat.
The sandwich starts with a soft, round proper Israeli pita, not those cardboard slippers we get in the supermarkets, which is warmed (not toasted), and split for filling. Inside you’ll find sliced potato, hard-boiled egg, fried aubergine, pickles, salads and sauces, including amba. That’s a sweet and tart sauce consisting of mangoes and spices and it basically makes the sandwich.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to make one, and I think part of it was the fear of cooking from increasingly distant memories. The amba is sweet, sharp and vaguely musty, and the zhoug a lightning bolt of green, all zippy herbs and chilli heat.

I’d love to go back to Tel Aviv one day, a thrilling city with incredible food. These sandwiches are a glimmer of that sun-soaked city on a freezing afternoon in South London, and for now, that’ll do me just fine. For now.

Sabich Recipe

Makes 6 pitas with leftover amba and zhoug (a very good thing)

For the amba

Amba is a sweet and sour mango sauce which probably arrived in Israel with the Iraqi Jews and is a common topping on sabich and falafel. It really makes this sandwich.

2 unripe (green) mangoes (you should have no trouble finding these in the supermarket…), peeled and diced
5 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
1 heaped teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large pinch turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying

In a small saucepan, gently heat the sugar with the lemon juice and vinegar, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mango pieces along with 200ml water and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the pieces are very soft (you will blend the sauce). In a separate, small frying pan or saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the garlic and cook very briefly, stirring, for 30 seconds or so. Add the turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and some salt and mix well. Transfer to a blender and whizz until smooth. Set aside to cool.

For the zhoug

Zhoug is a Yemenite chilli sauce which is fantastic with pretty much everything, including grilled meat and fish.

Large bunch of coriander and stalks
Slightly smaller bunch of parsley and stalks
5-10 green chillies (depending on their heat and your tolerance)
8 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large pinches of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a pestle and mortar, crush the cumin and caraway seeds. Add the salt and crush the garlic too. Transfer to a food processer with the herbs, lemon juice and chillies and blend to a paste. Add the oil and blend again. Check for seasoning.

For the sandwiches

1 aubergine
3 potatoes
6 small, round, soft pita
3 eggs
1/2 small white cabbage, finely shredded
1 carrot, grated or cut into very fine strips
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying

First, cook the aubergines by cutting into 1 cm slices, then frying in oil. I used a cast iron skillet for this, with oil to a depth of 1cm. Remove the slices when they are golden on each side and rest on kitchen paper.

Cook the potatoes in salted water. Drain, cool a bit and slice.

Cook the eggs by covering them with cold water. As soon as they start to boil, time them for 5-6 minutes (small-large), then transfer to a bowl of cold water. Peel and cut in half or slice.

Make a salad by mixing the cabbage, carrot, onion, olive oil, vinegar and some salt and pepper.

To assemble the sandwiches

Warm the pittas, but don’t toast them – they should be soft and pliable. Cut the top off and stuff with the ingredients and sauces. Direct into mouth.

Potato Salad

I can mark stages of my life with different versions of potato salad. In teenage years it was all about those pots of uniform, factory-diced potatoes in mayonnaise. We used to get drunk, then nip into the Co-op before it closed to clear their shelves (cheeky Ginsters cheese and onion slice on the side, thanks). There was something very comforting about those cold, salty cubes in their bland coating; it was just oily carbs in a box and we were okay with that.

Then I started cooking and was amazed at how the freshly cooked potatoes with a bit of Hellman’s lobbed in was just so much better than the claggy boxed stuff. A handful of fresh parsley or dill on top of the still-warm spuds and OMAFG it was a life-changing experience.

Additions came next. What would happen if spring onions got involved? Or chopped bacon, its fat still sizzling? I remember discovering the German style of potato salad, a magnificent mixture of chopped gherkins, mustard, and herbs, and I became fond of a variation using salami, fried in a pan until crisp. Might have to re-visit that one.

In recent years everyone seems to have rejected mayonnaise (or any creamy dressing), so the potatoes might come with a shiny glaze of olive oil, a flutter of herbs, perhaps some mustard or cress. Very Jamie Oliver. I dunno if this qualifies, though. I mean, it’s just a dish of potatoes, isn’t it? Potato salad needs to feel like a guilty pleasure.

Bacon makes everything better.

Often now, I use mayonnaise + yoghurt for a bit of sharpness, chives and parsley, lemon and maybe a clove of garlic that’s been boiled with the potatoes. It’s a halfway point between classic and modern. Sometimes, though, all-out is the only way. This is a kitchen sink recipe, which could be adapted depending on what you have knocking about.

The reason I’ve called it mind-bending is because it has chopped hard boiled eggs, which combined with the creme fraiche create a sort of egg mayo vibe. That’s a melon-twister. Still, egg mayo and carbs go together very well indeed, as we all know. I then added bacon, chopped gherkins and capers, spring onions, parsley and a dressing made with creme fraiche and mustard.

There is nothing restrained about it but it is a lot of fun. Rich and salty with pops of acidity, it’s full-on but not overwhelming, thanks to the creme fraiche; the flavour of the Jersey Royals still comes through. Would I eat this version every time? No, but then I have at least four other styles to choose from.

Mind-Bending Potato Salad Recipe

1kg Jersey Royal Potatoes
2 free-range eggs (I use Clarence Court)
80g bacon, chopped into lardons
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
4 gherkins (medium sized, larger than cornichons but not as large as burger pickles), finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 clove garlic
300ml creme fraiche
1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Large handful parsley, chopped

Boil the potatoes in salted water until just cooked, then drain and run under cold water to cool a little. Fry the bacon until crisp and hard boil the eggs, then peel and chop.

Mix the creme fraiche, mustard, garlic, lemon juice and some salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix the potatoes with the bacon, eggs, spring onions, capers and gherkins. Add the dressing and herbs and mix again, gently. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Chipotle Potato Skins

Potato skins, particularly when ‘fully loaded’ can be grim. I’ve come across one too many chewy potato boats harbouring a glob of rubbery cheddar and a smattering of flaccid bacon bits. No, thank you.

I’ve taken a slightly different approach to skins by baking and scooping out the potato flesh as usual, but then brushing them with a paste made from oil, salt and chipotle flakes before re-baking them briefly. This maximises crispness on the outside and leaves them coated in a salty, smoky chipotle crust. The top part has a thin layer of soft potato, which I topped with a blob of blue cheese dip and lime-heavy avocado salsa.

We ate them on New Year’s Eve as nibbles presented like this, but you could of course just make a pile of skins and serve the dip and salsa alongside. They’re like the best crisps ever. They were so addictive I nearly spoiled my appetite for the rest of the meal but then the rest of the meal was rib-eye with Béarnaise followed by chocolate cake so, you know, I struggled on…

Chipotle Potato Skins with Blue Cheese Dip and Avocado Salsa

(makes 16)

For the potato skins

4 baking potatoes
Chipotle flakes
Oil (e.g. vegetable or groundnut)

Prick the potatoes and place directly on the oven shelf at 200c for about 1.5 hours or until cooked through. When they’re cooked, cool a little and then cut in half. Scoop out the flesh from each potato, leaving a thin layer inside each skin. Cut each potato skin in half lengthways.

Mix together 1 tablespoon cooking oil with 1 tablespoon chipotle flakes and about half a tablespoon of salt. Brush this paste onto both sides of each skin. Arrange the skins on a baking tray and put back in the oven at 200C for 15 minutes. When ready, top with the blue cheese dip and salsa.

For the blue cheese dip

150-200g blue cheese
200ml sour cream
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice (ish)
1 teaspoon mustard (I used sweet American mustard)
1 tablespoon chives, snipped with scissors

Make sure the garlic is well crushed then mix with all the other ingredients. Add some black pepper. It may need a little salt.

For the Avocado Salsa

1 avocado, finely diced
Small handful coriander leaves, picked and finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime

Mix the spring onions, coriander and avocado together, then squeeze in half the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper then taste and decide if you want more lime juice.