Friday, December 29, 2006

This Week

This week was a most magnificent week for eating and, being of an indulgent predisposition at the best of times, we were more than happy to apply ourselves with gusto!

Saturday lunch was a bowl of hot chickpea and vegetable soup finished with a soffrito of rosemary, sage and pancetta - an excellent way to begin the week being both healthy and tasty and generally satisfying. I spent the afternoon preparing - chocolate truffle cake, red pepper hummus, salmon cured with coriander, a reduction of stock and red wine for the jus to go with the beef - so, many hours later, simple was best. Supper was the real beginning of feasting and we had a large platter with prawns complete with Hellmans for dipping, parma ham and mozzarella, batons of celery and carrots, semi dried black olives and masses of crusty bread and then, as I'd been to Green Valley earlier in the day, various baklava for a sweet finish

Sunday was xmas eve and I was all for bacon and eggs for breakfast but my sweetheart, convinced we would consume enough protein before the week was out insisted on porridge and it was almost as good. Lunch was pork pie cut into thick slices and an apple on the side before we set off to Richmond to be festive with Jaey and his lovely wife Marie. Their home was Christmas made real with a huge tree, lots of little Santa's, twinkly lights, enough candles to light up heaven and a never ending soundtrack of carols. Brilliant. They had prepared a most magnificent feast - traditional Swedish as that is where Marie was born and grew up - the table utterly laden with meat balls and beetroot salads and potatoes baked with cream and anchovies and wild boar paté that Marie's mum had made from wild boar Marie's step father had raised and butchered and then we had rice pudding scented with vanilla and served warm with lingonberries for dessert.

Wonderful food and also a really different experience for a 'european' meal - I expect to be surprised by asian or middle eastern food but I think I know all about european food and yet it is just not true. Good news I think - more things to try and I'm bound to like most of them. The evening continued with a walk in the park - complete with excitable labrador that our hosts were minding for the holidays - and fireworks just to add to the excitement. Perfect.

Christmas day we rose late and Jaey made hot pikelets - known as drop scones in England - for breakfast with butter and golden syrup - decadence on a plate. We took the dog for a long walk up Richmond Hill and had a quiet beer at the top while we admired the view then, revived, it was home for the main event of the day. We laid out hummus and salmon and olives and salami and celery to nibble over while we sipped champagne and waited for our magnificent rib of beef to cook. After heaving it from the oven and swaddling it in foil it was a simple matter to boil carrots and deep green sprouts, creamy discs of parsnip and roasting to golden the par boiled potatoes. As the red wine jus came up to simmer the lovely boyfriend carved the beast and I dished up the vegetables and finally we sat down again to a blissfully good meal in delightful company. Much later it seemed wise to take the dog out for another walk before we could realistically contemplate chocolate dessert. Returning refreshed we attacked the cake with gusto then settled in to watch a dvd of 'Bad Santa'. Easily the best christmas I've had for years.

Next day we had hot cheese scones for breakfast - good for the hangover - then another walk in the park with the dog dodging golfers and then home through Richmond Park and the clusters of deer making Christmas complete. Dinner Monday was a simple affair of hot bread with roast beef and grilled peppers and so to bed.

Wednesday coffee and cereals for breakfast, a cheerless trudge to work then, after a very quiet morning my sweetheart had an apple after a big hunk of chocolate truffle cake and I bought some lasagne for lunch from an uncharacteristically quiet Barbican Grill then home later for more cold roast beef sandwiches.

After snacking on taramasalata and hot pitta bread, Thursday dinner was the smoked salmon with scrambled eggs made with cream that I'd put in the freezer a few weeks ago when another plan hadn't worked out

Friday another simple breakfast and dinner will be vegetable curry using up the rest of the carrots and sprouts served simply with boiled rice

Not bad(!) for one week and nothing much remaining - some potatoes that we can eat next week, the bacon went into the freezer, Parmesan but it will last a while and come in handy - and the butternut still sitting up in the vegetable rack - next week may be it is time for it to be eaten

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Red Pepper Hummus & Taramasalata

This is the best time of year for snacky things - little plates of bits and pieces scattered about and bowls of smooth creamy dips to go with crisp raw celery and carrots and hot puffs of pitta bread. I love the way christmas is accepted as reason enough to eat and drink almost continuously for days. But it doesn't hurt to apply a little wisdom to the consumption and the construction of what will be eaten - if only so that you can continue the pleasure for longer.

For this reason dips are one of my favourite things - they tend to be quick and easy to make, look pretty in a bowl, last for a few days (unless they are so good that they are eaten immediately!) and can be eaten with raw vegetables which tend to be healthy and add a nice crunch in your mouth.

Both hummus and taramasalata recipes abound - and the shelves of every kind of food shop groans with the weight of the pre made tubs of sort of the same thing. I confess to having had a serious penchant for the bright pink variety of taramasalata when I first came to London. Available in little corner shops, as was packets of pitta bread to heat up to eat with it, I consumed huge amounts of it and loved every mouthful. Then one day I tried the real thing, pale and creamy, and realised it was time to move on. The fickleness of young love.

These two recipes are both very easy to make, not to mention far cheaper than anything you can buy ready made - and the hummus can be whipped up in no time from stuff in the cupboard, assuming you have a tin of chickpeas and a jar of roasted peppers lurking in there somewhere. It comes from Gordon Ramsay's Christmas suggestions for The Times.

Roasted Pepper Hummus

2 red peppers from a jar of roasted peppers or piquillo - or use two fresh red peppers, grilled and skinned
400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drianed
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbspn tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
50g pine nuts, toasted to golden
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Roughly chop the roasted peppers and put into a food processor. Add chickpeas, garlic, lemon and zest, tahini and pine nuts. Start to blitz then slowly pour in the oil, motor running, till it is all incorporated. Keep blending till you have a smooth terracotta paste. Season and chill. Serve with celery, carrots and warm pitta.


1 slice of stale white bread, crusts removed
200g/7 oz smoked cod's roe, soaked overnight in cold water
1 large clove garlic, crushed
240ml/8 fl oz olive oil
juice of 1 or 2 lemons
black pepper

Remove the roe from the soaking water then peel the skin off - it is a bit like a salami skin so just catch the edge of it with a knife and tug till it all comes off. It will immediately look more appetising. Wet the bread and squeeze it out then put it into a blender with the roe and garlic. Blitz, adding a thin stream of oil. If the dip becomes too stiff loosen it with some cold water. When you have the consistency you want, add the juice of one lemon, taste, then add more if you need it. Season with ground black pepper and serve with warm pitta bread and sticks of celery to scoop it up.

I Bought

And so this is Christmas - Borough Market was massively busy in places on Saturday morning. The queues for Neals Yard and Ginger Pig were reminiscent of scenes from the bad old days of the eastern bloc by 9 am. Friday was much worse, by all accounts. Other stalls, like Booths were possibly quieter than usual - in the early days of Borough Market the last weekend before xmas prompted scrums and punch ups to get to the sprouts and the parsnips. The success of box schemes in the last few years seems to have given people an assured source of good vegetables so the panic confines itself to meat and cheese. So we joined in.

We started at Neals Yard where the queue was already round the corner by 8.45 but it was good natured and much entertained by the lorry trying to get down the narrow street without hitting the cars parked on both sides. He got stuck half way - don't know how it ended but the police had arrived by the time we were leaving with our bread, milk and cream - the last tubs left in the entire market - and a sizeable hunk of stilton - £15.20

Next was Ginger Pig where the queue, if anything, was longer so I left the lovely boyfriend at the end of it and set off to find the other things on the list. He eventually picked up a magnificent hunk of rib roast and some bacon and eggs and got little change from £60

First I bought a big bag of King Edwards from the xmas market £2.20

Then I went to Shellseekers and bought sweet pale pink prawns and, on the spur of the moment some brown shrimp to have potted on xmas day - £6.20

Conitnuing the fish theme I bought a small tub of smoked salmon after consuming a large slice generously offered by the woman on the Irish stall - £4

Then to Furness Fish and Game for a glistening piece of fresh salmon fillet - £5.50

Next to the Italian mozzarella stall for two balls of buffalo and a sheet of parma ham - £7.70

I do love a pork pie so I bought one from Mrs Elizabeth King's stall accompanied by cheery wishes for a good xmas - £4.50

By this time my sweetheart had been served and so we went off together first to Booths for parsnips and brussel sprouts, onions and tangerines and lemons - £5.20

Carrots as usual from Total Organics as well as a can of chick peas - £2.20

In Brindisa I bought a jar of char grilled peppers called piquillo - £4.60

Can't be a party without Italian cheeses so we went to Gastronomica where, for the first time ever, the size of the suggested pieces was smaller than I had in mind - it was still early and they too had nearly sold out. I had hoped for rochetta but there was none so I settled for a piece of parmesan, a good hunk of a creamy goat/sheep mix, a round of slightly fermented raw milk and a piece of quite perfect pecorino - £15 the lot

And then we were done here - and it was still only 10.15 am - possibly a record. Total spend was a lot - £128.30 - but we had a week of serious eating ahead of us and we were looking forward to it all. Next week we shall have good intentions.

Friday, December 22, 2006

This Week

As we were going out Saturday night we indulged in hot grilled sausages and crusty bread and crispy salad mid afternoon - one of my better ideas as the choral concert later was a bit of a disappointment so we left at the interval. The dearth of transport suggested it must have been the night for the bus drivers xmas party - took us forever to get home. Upon arrival we needed a little sustenance so my sweetheart had the leftover carbonara, reheated and I had the giant sausage roll with salad so eventually we went to bed content.

Sunday was a quick breakfast of coffee and toast before heading to a screening of the new Clint Eastwood film 'Flags of Our Fathers' which was quite engrossing and I'm not really a fan of war movies. The West End was heaving by the time we came out so we bussed it over to Borough for Sunday lunch at the Wheatsheaf and later, after doing the inevitable household chores and then reading the papers we had a delicate supper of smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and butter ciabatta

Monday was the usual weekly breakfast of cereals and coffee and lunch didn't work out as planned. I had bought and cooked a piece of beef that had been corned - but there had been mustard in the corning mix and mustard is one thing I simply cannot abide so I binned that but did enjoy the rice salad and tomatoes. The lovely boyfriend, who does like mustard, didn't like the texture - it was a little slippery, for want of a better description, so then we had rice and salad and tangerines for seasonal colour so all was not lost. My sweetheart was out in the evening so I indulged myself with a noodle soup because I enjoyed it so much last week.

Tuesday I was out, and had a very enjoyable selection of tapas at Cuba Libre in Islington while my sweetie had a cheese sandwich - a dinner he adores - at home

Wednesday we were warmed by duck daube with mashed potatoes and sprouts and carrots after we'd come in from the foggy night

Thursday I had a good lunch at the newly reopened Hat & Feathers - long may it last - and for dinner I made pasta with the rest of the baby plum tomatoes - they were definitely not the best ones but it is the very end of the season so perhaps I should have known better. They did cook up very well with some garlic and nutmeg and the last of the Parmesan so it could have been worse

Friday we are finishing early so I may drop by the market to see if some shopping is an option and we are having chick pea soup tonight with the chick peas I bought a few weeks ago

Left at the end of this week is the belly pork but it is in the freezer and will be fine another time with lentils, the cucumber because lunches didn't really work out as they should so it may well be binned, the new potatoes are still in the fridge but they could be used in the next week steamed and served with melted butter and the butternut squash still sits happily in the vegetable basket - maybe for next week

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Daube of Duck with Prunes

When I first saw 'daube' on a menu for some reason I assumed it was something in pastry, rich and wintery. So when I ordered it one night for dinner in a small restaurant in France I discovered I was only partly wrong. I was served a steaming plate of food that was lovely and meaty with a good slick of red wine gravy but there was definitely no pastry involved. I subsequently found out that in fact the name derives from the dish in which it was traditionally cooked - a round ceramic pot whose lid was concave so that it could be filled with water thereby surrounding the stew with heat as it cooks in the fire. Clever.

In the village near to ours in the Gers there is a café that serves a particularly splendid menu de la region and, this being duck territory, the main course is a daube made with duck and finished with another local speciality, pruneaux d'Agen. The meat they use is from the legs and thighs, still on the bone to add depth to the finished sauce and to make a fine use of the bits of duck less popular than the breasts - the alternative is confit and there is only so much confit you can eat in a week. The red wine they use is a damned fine local 'rough red' and the addition of prunes gives it little dollops of sweetness rather than making a sugary sauce.
I have eaten this daube often and always with pleasure. So as the temperature finally dropped to wintery this week in London I decided it was worth having a go at making it at home. Starting with a recipe for beef daube I changed a few things and added some others and the end result was very good - but not as good as the one in Gondrin (yet).

Daube of Duck with Prunes

1kg/2 1/2 lbs duck legs and thighs on the bone
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tbspns goose/duck fat
2 tbspns flour
1 tbspn tomato purée
300ml/1/2 pint rich red wine
300ml/1/2 pint stock
bouquet garni
100g/4oz prunes, soaked

Start this at least one day before you plan to eat it!

Chop the duck into reasonable sized pieces - my sweetheart is a dab hand with a cleaver and he chops each joint in two - the aim is to have good sized edible pieces that are roughly the same size.

Heat the fat (or olive oil) in a large pan and seal the duck all over. Take it out of the pan and put to one side while you add the onion and garlic to the pan. Stir it around for a few minutes till it softens then add the flour and tomato paste, mixing briskly. Add the red wine and the stock and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Add the seasoning then put the duck back into the pot along with the bouquet garni. Cover the top of the pot with a sheet of aluminium foil under the lid then bring the daube back to the boil very gently. Put the casserole into a very slow oven - gas 1 - and cook for 5-6 hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool then refrigerate overnight. Next day skim the fat from the top of the daube before reheating and adding the prunes.

Served with a cloud of mashed potatoes and boiled brussel sprouts and carrots, it's the kind of dinner that makes winter worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

TagliatelleCarbonara Prosciutto

Spaghetti carbonara was unknown before World War II - that is my piece of thoroughly useless information for the day - quite a good one, I think. It's origins lie in the war when American servicemen in Rome had lots of eggs and bacon and the locals had pasta and cheese and the natural end result was this simple and utterly fabulous dish.

If I was thinking about making it from memory rather than checking a recipe I would probably think I needed cream but in fact there is no cream in carbonara. What there is, is a silky luxurious sauce of egg yolks and cheese that cooks with the heat of the pasta leaving each strand delicately coated. When you eat it the sensation is definitely an unctuous richness - perfect for mid week supper if life is otherwise seeming bleak. Or for any other excuse you care to come up with to indulge in this treat.

This recipe comes from brilliant Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers 'Pasta & Ravioli' edititon in the River Cafe Pocket Books series.

Tagliattelle Carbonara Prosciutto

350g dried egg tagliatelle
300g prosciutto slices, cut into strips 1cm wide
100g unsalted butter
150ml white wine
6 egg yolks
50g parmesan, freshly grated, plus extra for serving
50g aged pecorino, freshly grated
extra-virgin olive oil

Heat 1tbs of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan, add two thirds of the prosciutto and fry very briefly. Add half of the butter and the wine. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, just to combine the wine with the butter and the prosciutto juices. Mix the egg yolks with the cheeses and season. Cook the tagliatelle in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the pasta water.

Add the pasta to the prosciutto then stir in the egg mixture and the rest of the butter, letting the heat of the pasta cook the egg. Add the reserved cooking water if the sauce seems too thick. Stir in the remaining prosciutto and serve with extra parmesan.

This will seve four.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I Bought

We arrived at Borough Market about half an hour later than was wise on Saturday and already there were queues at Wyndhams Poultry and Ginger Pig with people not actually shopping but ordering for next week for the grand feast that is Christmas. Everyone is generally cheerful, even the stallholders though they are in for a massively busy time.

At Wyndhams I bought some duck legs to try and recreate a dish we like in a café in France - £8.20

At Ginger Pig I bought a piece of corned silverside, a couple of pork chops, some slices of pork belly because it looked particularly good and eggs - £22.40 - and ordered a rib of beef for our Christmas feast

I bought potatoes from Morghew Potato stall in the xmas market that is selling only spuds - a range of traditional varieties so I bought new ones called 'Nicola' and bakers - £2.20

There was no queue at all at Monmouth coffee stall in the xmas market so I bought a bag of dark roasted beans from New Guinea in a flash - £9

Apples from Chegworth - £1.40

Tomatoes from the Isle of Wight - they are the last of the baby plums and I couldn't resist the little shiny red flavour bombs - £3.50

Wild beef sausages for a decadent lunch - £4

Carrots from Total Organics - £1

Booths was remarkably quiet - I guess no one pre orders their sprouts - so we bought some for this week as well as cucumber, onions, garlic, sugar snaps, a not entirely fresh green pepper, some delicate salad leaves, and some bright orange tangerines - £4.05

The Irish smoked salmon people were back. Though they've had to raise their prices I was delighted to see them and I bought a small tub because it is like edible luxury - £4 (was £3.50)

A big fat sausage roll from Ginger Pig - £3

Big queue at Neals Yard - there'll be a lot of stilton enjoyed before 2007 arrives - but for this week I just bought milk and bread - £5.70

And that's our lot - £68.45

Friday, December 15, 2006

This Week

We had a sociable weekend starting with meeting up with Jaey and Marie to queue for the big slide at Tate Modern - and it was well worth the wait. Wildly exciting. Afterwards we had a fine lunch at The Anchor and Hope so dinner was simply a platter of bread and ham and cheese and olives - what my sweetheart calls a cold collation. One of his favourite kind of meals.

Sunday we had toast and coffee before going to a preview of Deja Vu - Denzel Washington is a very good actor but the premise for this film was flimsy beyond belief. We had pork pie and salad when we got home then David came for dinner to exchange holiday stories - his in Luxor and ours in Bali. After snacks and a glass of wine we had blanquette de veau with rice and brussel sprouts and carrots for a sumptuous meal followed by prunes and cream. Dessert brought back memories of growing up - my mother used to make dessert every night - proper ones like junkets and custards and sometimes prunes and cream. Thinking about it now I am impressed by how much effort she went to daily for us - she's a great cook and the source of my abiding fascination with good food.

Monday it was coffee and cereals and yoghurt as always, then cold poached chicken and rice and green beans for lunch and again each day till Thursday, and Monday night we had sausage and mash and peas for supper neatly using up the chicken I had frozen from last week, the potatoes we hadn't eaten and the leftover cream

Tuesday we were out at the Dana Centre to listen to an illustrated lecture about scientific existence in the Antarctic

Wednesday it was a wonderful bowl of grilled pork and noodle soup

Thursday my sweetheart had cold noodles with the last of the chicken and salad and I bought meatballs and lentils from Mario and Carol's stall in Whitecross Street and we were out for dinner with the lovely boyfriend's work colleagues where the food wasn't great but the company was charming so it was a good evening

Friday we will both buy lunch and dinner will be the delicate pleasure of a perfect carbonara

So we ate pretty much everything this week that we bought on the weekend - except the butternut from the week before last - but it will survive a while yet

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Grilled Pork and Noodle Soup

Otherwise known as pork chop soup. This started around the time that Wagamama started in London. I really liked their noodle soups - the way they somehow got a whole meal into a large bowl that firstly was visually arresting when it was served while giving off an intriguing aroma and then was full of contrasting flavours and textures so that each mouthful was different from first to last. Initially I just ate at Wagamama a lot. Then I started tinkering at home to make my own versions and discovered that not only is this soup easy to make, there are endless variations around the basics of stock, noodles, greens and a poached egg.

The recipe below is last nights version.

Grilled Pork & Noodle Soup

2 pork chops
800ml/1 1/4 pts stock
250g/ 1/2lb chinese greens like bok choy
1/4 savoy cabbage, shredded
1 tbspn olive or peanut oil
1 tspn sesame oil
200g/ 6oz dried egg noodles
2 eggs
small bunch coriander, chopped

Season the pork chops and put under a medium grill, turning occasionally till cooked. At the same time, heat half the oil in a large saucepan, wash the bok choy and add it, with any water clinging to the leaves, to the hot oil. Cover with a lid and cook till just wilted. Drain in a colander and set aside. Heat the other half of the oil, wash the shredded cabbage and add it to the hot oil and cover and cook till just wilted. Add it to the colander with the bok choy then toss with a little sesame oil. Cover with the lid from the pan and set aside.

Heat the stock to simmering. Add the dried noodles and cook gently for a few minutes. By this time the pork chops should be done - take them out from under the grill and slice. Take the noodles from the stock with a pasta spoon and make a little nest in the base of two large bowls. Turn the heat up under the stock to full. Break an egg into the middle of each nest then ladle boiling stock over them to poach them - they should cook immediately. Arrange the sliced pork and the shredded veg around the egg then top with more stock. Sprinkle generously with coriander and serve.

This makes for a quick supper - it is all done in the time it takes to grill the pork chops. You can use steak or chicken or tofu, grilled prawns would be nice, add chillies and spring onions and fried shallots or garlic slivers or bean sprouts or all of the above, if your bowls are big enough.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blanquette de Veau

Veal is a by product of the dairy industry. For dairy cows to continue to produce milk they need to calve each year. Female calves are introduced into the dairy herd to allow the herd to grow and thrive but male calves are extraneous. Slaughtered young they provide a delicate meat that is widely used in French and Italian cooking in particular. They have often been, and in some countries still are, raised during their short lives in extremely cruel conditions crated into small wooden boxes and force fed milk substitute, denied both exercise and natural light as well as social interaction with other calves. If you don't know the provenance of the veal don't buy it.

Unsurpisingly studies have found carcasses of group-housed calves were heavier than those of crated calves and with higher average daily gain and feed conversion there is better carcass conformation and carcass tenderness, and better flavor than crated calves. The meat is not as pale but in fact consumers are not looking for 'white' veal - just meat that is high quality and delicately flavoured. It is well worth searching out the best - as with all your food - and you shall be well rewarded.

Blanquette de veau is a rustic french veal dish that has been around so long that it can rightly be considered a classic. It takes simple ingredients and methods and transforms them into something luscious and elegant and one of my favourite dishes of all time. There are many versions throuhgout France. This recipe comes from 'Goose Fat & Garlic' by Jeanne Strang, a book I bought after I'd spent some time in south west France and had gone in search of local recipes. Having used it to learn how to make perfect grilled magret and a rich daube this book has become one of my favourites.

Blanquette de Veau du Carcassès

800g/(1 3/4 lb) stewing veal
1 tbspn goose fat
150ml/1/4 pt) dry white wine
400ml (3/4 pt) water
1 onion stuck with 2 cloves
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 leek, cleaned and white part sliced
bouquet garni of thyme, bay, parsley and rosemary
salt, pepper, nutmeg
10-12 little onions or 3 medium sized ones
250g (1/2 lb) mushrooms, preferably girolles if you can afford them, or else something tasty
60g (2oz) butter
45g (1 1/2oz) butter plus 2 tbspns plain flour (for the roux)
2 egg yolks
2 tbspns double cream
juice of 1 lemon

Trim and cube the meat. Blanch it for a few seconds in boiling water, then drain it and plunge into cold water and then drain again.

Melt the goose fat in a casserole, add the blanched veal and stir to seal. Add the wine and water, onion with cloves, carrot, leek, bouquet garni and seasoning. Quarter the onions or, if you are using little pickling ones, blanch them whole, then add them to the meat. Bring the casserole to the boil slowly then gently simmer for an hour or so, until the meat is tender.
This is a perfect point to turn it off then cover, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. The flavour will develop beautifully.

Reheat the stew, then cook the mushrooms briefly in a little butter. Make a roux in a separate pan by melting the butter till just turning golden, stir in the flour and cook until it is biscuity in colour and aroma. Moisten it with about half a cup of veal stock from the casserole, stirring to make a smooth sauce. Bring the sauce to the boil then simmer very gently for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile beat up the egg yolks, cream and lemon juice in a bowl. When the sauce is ready stir a ladleful into the egg/cream/lemon mix and then tip the lot back into the sauce. Mix thoroughly and add to the casserole. Add the mushrooms and their juice and stir to incorporate. Check the seasoning then serve.

We had it on Sunday with plain steamed white rice and brussel sprouts and it was wonderful.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Bought

Saturday was an absolutely glorious winter day - clear blue skies, bright sun and properly cold - just fabulous. Arriving early we found Borough Market was fairly quiet so shopping was an unadulterated pleasure.

At Ginger Pig we bought diced veal, sausages, pork chops and eggs for £23

We had a friendly chat with the nice man at Mrs Kings Pork Pie stand and admired the shiny silver cups they won last week, coming first in two categories at the annual Melton Mowbray show, so we bought a lovely golden pie to take home - £4.50

Quick chat with Garry from Total Organics as he set out his cheeses in the xmas market - seems Railtrack have finally got the go ahead to expand London Bridge station and so they will wipe out a swathe of Borough

Bought apples from Chegworth Valley - £1.30

Carrots from the main Total Organics - £1.20

Horse mushrooms, fat shiny brussel sprouts, onions, garlic, mixed salad leaves from Booths £3.40

Buffalo mozzerella and parma ham from the little stall near the front - £7.50

Apple strudel from a new cake stall that had a lovely - and irresistable - display £2

Milk, bread, yoghurt and cream from Neals Yard - £10.50

A small tub of green olives with tarrragon and garlic from Borough Olives - £2

Cornish double cream from Wild Beef - £1.50

My sweetheart, feeling virtuous for not indulging last week, insisted on a chocolate brownie this week - £1.50

A very reasonable £58.40

Friday, December 08, 2006

This Week

Posting blog 100! Time to spread the word a little more.

But to the topic at hand. This week was not entirely smooth - some things worked better than others and some things fell by the wayside.

Saturday we had bread and jam and coffee after the market then set off to the private view of the latest work by the Boyle Family and it is fascinating. A study of the growth of a random sweeping of seeds during the summer, it is a projection of images taken for 1 second every 10 minutes 24/7 for months. It's extraordinary how much changes between frames and how easy it is to get caught up watching the movement of light. Brilliant. Then we tottered off to Taj Stores because it was nearby for some bits and pieces and then home to a quick snack first of sausage roll then chinesey roasted spare ribs, green peppers stir fried with black beans and rice later. Good.

Sunday we started with porridge and the papers and coffee. I started off a huge pot of chicken stock with bits and pieces of chicken I have frozen lately and the carcasses I bought plus lots of vegetables. By the time it was gently simmering the sun was shining in a clear blue sky so we wandered over to the Tate for a little culture then home later for scotch egg and housework. Dinner was the first attempt at Bali food at home - dry spiced beef and bali salad with rice. It took a little longer than I was expecting - forgot to factor in that when we'd made them at the cooking school there was a dozen of us plus a back up professional kitchen (!) but, when we got there, it was a triumph.

Monday it was coffee and cereals and yoghurt for breakfast and the same, as usual, for the week, lunch was leftover spiced beef and rice for a little filip in the middle of the day, same Tuesday and dinner was smoked salmon, beetroot salad, rocket and crusty bread - perfect.

Tuesday dinner was less successful - I kept one of the slices of topside I bought for the spiced beef to make a stir fry with fresh coriander and it turned out okay but not brilliant partly because I only had a tiny bit of peanut oil so didn't deep fry the marinated meat. I made sea spice aubergine to go with it which is one of my favourite dishes and it too was a disaster. The oven is playing up - it turns itself off for no reason, then the electronic spark clicks loudly and it eventually reignites and I think the heat must have dropped significantly so the aubergine were under cooked and it all went bad from there. At least the rice was nice.

Wednesday my lovely boyfriend had the last of the spiced beef with fresh rice from the night before with cucumber, sugar snaps and discs of carrots for lunch and I made a salad box with rice for me and a boiled egg which I forgot to take. So we regrouped Wednesday night and went to see the highly praised 'London to Brighton' - which is most of all like a very good episode of 'The Sweeney' so interesting rather than brilliant, then had dinner at 'Upstairs' on Acre Lane which, too, was interesting rather than brilliant.

Thursday I bought a wild boar chorizo roll from Denhays stall in the second food market on Whitecross Street and some rye bread to go with bacon and barley soup from the freezer when I got home from the last of my French classes for the year which was lovely when I got in out of the lashing gales

Friday I made a vegemite sandwich on rye for my love with an apple for his lunch and I shall find a treat at Whitecross Street again then we shall probably have spicy corn fritters and a repeat of the Bali salad for dinner using the rest of the cabbage and beans and coconut

So I didn't use the chicken I had bought for lunches - that went into the freezer and can come out again for next week, there is also some celery and potatoes that may well be used this week and otherwise we ate pretty much everything. Though last week's butternut is still sitting happily untouched in the vegetable rack

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Spiced Beef and Bali Salad

Decided to abandon cold weather food and go instead for the hot clean spiciness of Asia for a few days. My sweet pea is susceptible to the winter blues. He blossomed into cheerfulness in the tropical paradise that is Bali but we are both a bit flat now that we're back in London so, in addition to lovely hot porridge for Sunday breakfast which is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone's face, I thought I'd try some of the newly learned Bali dishes. Maybe get a little sparkle back.

The spiced beef wasn't something I'd had before but we ate the salad both at Bumbu and Desak made it for us a couple of times at the villa and every time it was wonderful. It is hot with chilli and sweet with grated coconut and sour with bean sprouts and cabbage and generally amazing and utterly unlike anything I've made before.

Attending the cooking class meant that I knew where I was headed before I started - such knowledge is valuable. The most direct thing I could apply for this meal was the correct way to use shrimp paste. It is a common Asian condiment and is known as terasi (also spelled trassi, terasie) in Indonesian, kapi (กะปิ) in Thai, belacan (also spelled belachan, blachang, balachong) in Malay, mam tom in Vietnamese and bagoong alamang/aramang in Filipino.If you've never used it you will be astounded by the smell - it is very very pungent. Imagine the smell of prawns that have gone off - then imagine the smell if, instead of immediately getting rid of them you left them in the sun for a few more weeks to rot beyond recognition. That is like the smell that greets you when you unwrap the little brick of shrimp paste from its many layers of paper and plastic. For the Malay version, rather than rot them in the sun, they pound them with salt and bury them for a couple of months, then dig them up again and make them into bricks to sell. Mmmm.

Anyway, the proper way to treat shrimp paste before adding it to a dish is to put it into a hot dry pan and break it up with a wooden spoon and then continue cooking it till it is smoking - and smelling even stronger! This process takes about ten minutes - it becomes crumbly and then it is ready to be used. It adds a deep savouriness to the dish without being identifiable - amazing given its aroma.


Don’t be misled by the rather uninteresting appearance and name of this beef dish. It is wonderfully flavored and generally so popular that it’s worth making a large amount. Cook as directed below, then if you have leftovers after a meal, deep fry the beef until very crisp. Drain thoroughly and store in an airtight container. This crisp beef is excellent as a finger food with cocktails, and also makes a tasty accompaniment to rice-based meals.

1 kg beef topside, cut in 4 steaks 250g each
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 tbsp chopped palm sugar
2 large red chilies, seeded
2 tbsp laos peeled and sliced
2 tsp dried shrimp paste
2 cloves ground
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely ground
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp freshly squeezed limejuice

PREPARATIONS :Bring 5 liters (20 cups) of lightly salted water to the boil in stockpot. Add beef and simmer for approximately 1 hour, until very tender. Remove from stock. Meat must be so tender that its fibers separate very easily. Pound meat until flat and shred by hand into fine fibers. Do not be tempted to use a food processor to shred the meat - you will end up with paste.

Place garlic, coriander, palm sugar, red chilies, Laos, dried shrimp paste, cloves, salt and peppercorns in food processor and puree coarsely, or grind in a stone mortar. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan and sauté the marinade for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add shredded beef, mix well and sauté until dry. Season with limejuice.Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Serve at room temperature.

Bali Salad - Jukut Urab

100 gr (3 ½ oz) blanched cabbage
100 gr (3 ½ oz) spinach, blanched
100 gr (3 ½ oz) long beans cut in 32,5 cm (line) pieces, blanched
100 gr (3 ½ oz) bean sprouts, blanched
1 large red chili, sliced
1 tbsp grated coconut
2 tbsp fried shallots

2 tbsp fried shallots
2 tbsp sliced garlic clove
1 large red chili, seeded and sliced
2 tsp fried chili (Sambal Sereh Tabia)
3 fragrant lime leaves, very finely sliced
4 cm (1½ in) kencur, peeled & chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon crushed black pepper
½ teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon oil

Cut cabbage into pieces about 2,5 cm by 1 cm (1 in by ½ in). Combine all vegetables, chili, grated coconut and fried shallots in salad bowl and mix well.

For the dressing: Crush the garlic and fry very briefly in the oil. Combine all ingredients and mix well in separate bowl. Mix the dressing thoroughly with the vegetables; season to taste with salt, pepper and limejuice. Serve at room temperature.

Easy peasy and the result is a little bit of Bali bliss.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I Bought

Quietish at Borough Market this week early on and vaguely sunny to welcome the opening of the extra Christmas Market with it's giant snow flakes dangling from the ceiling and festive tunes from the Salvation Army Band in full voice and full regalia. Lots of people queueing to place their yuletide orders.
The promise of special things makes everyone seem cheerful.

I bought a chicken at Wyndhams and two carcasses for stock - £6

I bought some topside at Ginger Pig and a lovely meaty rack of pork ribs and some eggs - £16.80

Apples from Chegworth Valley from their new stand in the xmas hall but they have no scales so pricing is approximate - £1.20

Chick peas and carrots from Total Organics £2.85

Potatoes, spinach, cabbage, onions, garlic, sugar snaps - and a fresh hairy coconut - from Booths - £6.50

On the way back to Ginger Pig was delighted to see the Irish smoked salmon people at their stall - they've missed a few weeks because bad weather made the ferry crossing impossible - so I bought a tub of their finest salmon for a treat - £3.50

Then to Ginger Pig again for a hot sausage roll and a scotch egg - £6

Bought 3 green peppers, 2 aubergine and a cucumber from Tony (but not a partridge in a pear tree) - £3.40

Bread, milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £6.80

No chocolate brownie for my lovely one this week - he's worried about the volume of sweet treats he consumes all of a sudden - and there was still a few biscuits left in the Duchy of Cornwall box in the fridge in case of emergencies

A bargain week - £53.05

Friday, December 01, 2006

This Week

A mixed week. Still very mild in London but nasty wet at times too with great drifts of leaves piling up against fences. Saturday was a grazing kind of day. We had bread and home made marmalade - made by the lovely boyfriend's very talented mother - mid morning then slices of giant sausage roll after that. Mid afternoon snack was slices of scotch egg and then chunks of Pecorino and chinks of the softish truffle cheese. Later still we had prawns and crab and thick slabs of crusty bread and butter with a fine white wine - all in all a very pleasurable kind of day.

Sunday there were hailstones after heavy rain. We had porridge for breakfast - hot and comforting. My sweetheart eats his with cream and dark brown sugar and I like mine with butter and light brown sugar. Some people say we have nothing in common but it's not true - we both like porridge. Fortified, we decided to tackle the cupboard under the stairs which was bursting with all manner of stuff. Three hours later we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the Wheatsheaf. Roast pork with roasted winter vegetables and sprouts made for a very good dinner.

Monday coffee and cereals for breakfast and the same for the week, lunch was cold roast pork and the melange of veg and again on Tuesday, and we went to see the new Caryl Churchill play 'Drunk Enough to Say I Love You' which was extraordinary. Very short - 50 minutes and edited to the absolute essence - it was a two hander between Jack - as in Union - and Sam - as in Uncle. The core conceit was that Jack, in thrall, leaves his wife and family to be with Sam and it traced the arc of their relationship through their examination of the best way to be at war from Vietnam to now. It was let down slightly by the directing which lacked the courage of the writing but it was fascinating. We went home for a bowl of hot cauliflower and stilton soup.

Tuesday we had pasta for dinner with goats curd and rocket and chilli which was nice but would definitely be improved with more rocket. Next time.

Wednesday we had leftover pasta for lunch and then the utterly amazing chicken with cinnamon and lemon for dinner.

Thursday we had cold chicken and rice for lunch, again utterly enjoyable, and then scrambled eggs and crusty bread and cheese for a speedy supper after French

Friday I shall buy lunch from the Mario and Carol who have a stall selling hot Italian food in Whitecross Street. They used to run the Alba food store selling a range of homemade Italian food and high quality groceries but were driven out by the arrival of Waitrose across the street. A cheerful couple, they have decided the upside is that now they have the afternoons free. Tonight we'll have carbonara as I may be needing soft food after seeing the dentist this afternoon.

Not much left over at all this week - some potatoes which will probably be used over the weekend and some sprouts which may be ok or may be headed for the bin. And the butternut squash but it will last until another day.