Wednesday, December 12, 2007

White Onion Foam

White onions are striking looking things - at their peak they are glowing white bulbs with gleaming skins. They have a higher water content than brown onions giving them a milder flavour - they are good raw if you like raw onion. They cook beautifully but store badly - the extra moisture gives them a tendency to rot.

This easy dish is quite simply brilliant whne warm with roast beef or cold with sausages - we had it both ways this week. I'm sure it would also work well with roast chicken.

White Onion Foam
About 500g white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
A large knob of butter - about 40-50g
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter over a gentle heat and fry the onion slices till they are transparent - about 30 minutes. Let it cool then with a blender stick or in a blender whizz till smooth. Season.

Warm it through before serving with a roast but it works really well cold with sausages and salad.

It is so good that everyone who eats this will think you are brilliant!

Garlic and White Bean Soup

Garlic is one of those miracle vegetables that is as close as you can get to a guarantee a dish will be good. I use vast quantities of the stuff.

Before it ever reached the kitchen it had been imbued with all manner of extraordinary properties throughout history. Garlic was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, chewed by Greek Olympian atheletes and was (is!) thought to be essential for keeping vampires at bay. It can lower your cholesterol, cure your cold, get rid of acne and repel mosquitoes. It is a powerful antibiotic to which the body never builds up a resistance and is effective in protecting the body against damaging free radicals.

On top of such utter fabulousness it is an amazing thing to cook with. Depending on how you use it, it offers many variations on the flavour it adds. Raw crushed into salad dressings it is hot and pungent, boiled it is soft and gentle. Slow cooked in the oven with nothing but a dash of oil it squeezes out of its skins a rich and creamy paste. It is essential in stir fries and pasta sauce, and adds unctuousness to slow cooked stews. It fills the house with a glorious smell welcoming all who come to eat.

A wonderful thing, no? And it's not even expensive.

The following recipe is definitely a winter soup, it is creamy and filling and will protect you from the cold winter world outside. (And vampires.) It is an adaptation from one in Sundays at Moosewood.

Garlic & White Bean Soup
1 1/2 cups of cannellini beans, soaked overnight
4 pints water
1 whole head of garlic
In a little bit of muslin tie up 2 sprigs rosemary, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1/2 tspn fennel seeds, 4 cloves and a bay leaf - makes it easy to get it all out again
1 cup diced potato
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped carrot
100 ml of double cream
1 cup chopped parsley

Place the soaked beans in a pot with 2 pints of water and the head of garlic and bouquet garni in the muslin and simmer, uncovered, for one hour. Add the chopped potato and continue to simmer for another half an hour.

In a separate pan sauté the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots and sauté for another 15 minutes. Add these to the bean with another two pints of water and simmer for another half an hour.

Allow to cool overnight.

Remove the bouquet garni and the garlic. Throw away the herbs but squeeze out the cloves of garlic into the soup. Purée the soup until smooth. Warm through, add seasoning and cream. Just before serving stir through the chopped parsley.

Perfect winter food. This makes enough for 8 generous bowls - if you don't fancy it two days running it freezes very well for an easy dinner another day with some crusty bread and perhaps a salad.

Monday, December 10, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Borough Market on Saturday was fairly calm early on - most intensity seemed to be with people ordering wonderful things for xmas - then looking uncertain about when to collect their goodies. Tuesday xmas means an exceptionally full fridge for half a week if you go the Saturday option. Last year was gridlock from about 8am so I understand the hesitation.

Started at Ginger Pig and told my sad tale of bad sausages bought the week before - not a problem at all for the young man serving me. He was all apologies and replaced them without question - 9 fat fresh cumberlands for 6 bad steak sausages - as the man no longer fancied trying the steak variety. We had them grilled on Tuesday night and then cold in lunchboxes for a couple of days and they were very good indeed. I may never know what they are like! With a couple of pork chops itended for Monday night but ended up in the freezer - it was only £5.40

Went to Furness for mackarel but they had none - cheap!

Then to Wild Beef for eggs - scrambled for supper Monday night - £1.50

Gorgonzola as the last gasp of a huge feast on Sunday then as snacks and finally with spinach as a pasta sauce Friday night - from Gianni at Gastronomica - he really wanted to sell me some mozzarella as well but I had no use for it and it would be sinful to waste such wonderful cheese - I suspect he probably managed to sell the lot in any case - £6

Fortunately Applebees had some mackarel - cured and served as the start of the feast on Sunday - so bought two big fat ones that the monger then skinned and filleted for me - £7.80

Apples from Chegworth lunches - £1

Coffee from Monmouth - no more cup of excellence which was wildly expensive but was indeed an exceptionally good coffee so a little dark roast colombian instead - £8.50

Two more apple strudel from the cake stall next to the Olive Oil Company because they were so good last week as dessert it seemed worth doing it again this week - Sunday dessert - £5

More trouts eggs Sunday lunch from Inverness Smokery - there was no Orkney Rose this week - and also bought shortbread and whisky marmalade as english xmas gifts for our french neighbours. I couldn't resist a half leg of blackface lamb - for the freezer - so it was £22.80 the lot

Needed white onions white onion foam to go with roast Cote du Boeuf Sunday and I know they don't sell them in Booths so I bought them at Turnips - an expensive £1.50 for 3 made to seem even dearer as one of them had started to rot...

Brindisa for another jar of lovely chickpeas for the cupboard - looked to buy some dried white beans there but they were £12.50 a kilo. I am sure they are extraordinary but I didn't want to find out that they were irresistable and find myself having to use them for all my white bean needs so stuck with the chickpeas at £2.75

Booths for veg - lots of potatoes both pink fir boiled with lunch Sunday then as salad in lunches Monday, Tuesday and yukon gold yet to be eaten, carrots lunches and salad Tuesday, garlic soup Sunday and the other half of the soup in the freezer, beans Sunday feast, celery, fennel lunches and salad, and peppers lunches - only £5

Milk, bread, clotted cream and a serious chunk of Montgomery cheddar Sunday's excess!- the only one they export to France - from Neals Yard - £18.70

Almond croissant and a toasty loaf from Flour Power - £3.20

So all together I spent £89.15

This time last year we were mostly eating (a lot!) red pepper hummus and taramasalata - and we've had a lot of the hummus since. A serious treat is daube of duck with prunes or carbonara with prosciutto and a slightly lighter dish is grilled pork and noodle soup, always a favourite.

Whatever you choose to eat over christmas I hope it is utterly fabulous and made with love. For myself I'm off with the man for a little break - normal service will resume in another year.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Chickpea & Roasted Vegetable Salad

This is a really good dish for lunch boxes as well as working well for the cooler weather. The chick peas make it substantial and add a creamy undertone to the whole thing. The ones I used for this were seriously posh ones from Brindisa - big fat pale yellow balls of joy. They are a much better choice than pasta for this because they are more robust and don't tend to collapse the way pasta does. Slow roasting the vegetables gives them a concentrated sweetness that is lovely to taste.

Chickpea & Roasted Vegetable Salad

2 medium onions, peeled, halved and the halves cut in to quarters
6-8 garlic cloves, flattened with the flat of a knife but unpeeled
1 aubergine, cubed into 2cm pieces
2 courgettes, halved lengthways then cubed to the same size as the aubergine
3 peppers, chopped roughly the size of the courgettes
2 large tomatoes, cubed again into 2cm pieces
2-3 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs of rosemary
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
660g Jar of El Navarrico chick peas if you can get them - or 2 tins of the usual

Drizzle a little olive oil over the base of a low sided roasting pan, scatter over the herbs and garlic cloves then add all the vegetables, piled up if you need to - they will collapse as the moisture from them evaporates. Season and then drizzle the lot generously with olive oil - the oil becomes the dressing for the salad, full of the sweet roasting flavours, so don't stint. Put the tray into a medium/gas5 oven and roast for about 90 minutes, turning every 30 minutes or so. They are cooked when the edges of the veg are starting to caramelise and the volume has reduced by about half.

Drain and wash the chick peas and put them into a large bowl. Tip the hot vegetables over the top scraping in the oil from the pan. Try and rescue the herbs and the garlic and bin it if you can. Mix it all together then check the seasoning. Add salt, pepper and perhaps a dash of balsamic vinegar till the combination is perfect.

This made enough salad for both of us for lunches for four days - with some cold chicken and stuffing for the first few days and on its own on Thursday and it remained good to eat. Lots of flavours and textures and a good salve for lunchtime hunger.

Monday, December 03, 2007

And this week ... I bought

We arrived early - on the dot of 9 - and the market was blissfully quiet. I think some people save up going to fill up on treats for christmas leaving the regulars a bit more space in early December. Works for me.

Started at Wyndhams for chicken carcasses to make stock and I did Saturday afternoon - £2

Then to the Ginger Pig and bought a big chicken for a spectacularly good lunch on Sunday with cold leftovers in lunchboxes for a few days after that, some steak sausages for a change - we've never tried them and they were a complete disaster as when I opened the bag on Monday night they were rancid - they stank and had to go straight in the bin outside, not happy, and some unsmoked oyster bacon -some in the freezer and some in barley stuffing in the chicken and some draped across the breasts to keep the bird moist as it roasted - £25.40

This week's one off stall outside roast was organic smoked salmon - tried a bit and it was very good so bought a pack - which is now in the freezer as we had far too much for dinner Saturday night and it will be special another day - £4.50

Eggs emergency omelette Monday night and coarse ground mince into the freezer from Wild Beef - £9.25

Dolmades - as a snack before lunch Sunday and olive oil soap as the man is fond of it - from Taste of Turkey - £5.50

Chocolates for a treat - £2

Last chance slice of seldom seen goose for the year lovely sandwich for Saturday lunch - £3

Apples lunches and juice to keep us going while we shopped from Chegworth - £2.80

A couple of massive apple strudels - warmed through for dessert with clotted cream on Sunday and just divine - from the cake stall next to the olive company - £5

Then we bought some oysters - we are going to France for xmas and it is traditional round us to eat oysters for xmas day so the man decided we should practice here first which is enormously sweet of him as he doesn't like them at all but knows my passion for them - a dozen small natives - we managed to shuck 10 out of 12 very successfully and I shared them with Georgia as an appetiser before lunch on Sunday - for £5

More fish to continue our odyssey - this time from Shellseekers where we got a dressed crab and some sweet fresh prawns devoured by the man on Saturday night as I'd been to a cooking class in the afternoon and couldn't eat another thing so it worked out well as he was a little jealous that he hadn't come with me and then he was delighted he didn't have to share! - £8.30

Chickpeas - posh ones in a jar - for roasted vegetable salad for lunches for the week - from Brindisa - £2.75

Booths for veg - potatoes, carrots - roast, fennel - meant for salad with fish but still in the fridge, sugarsnaps, clementines lunches, parsnips, spring onions parsnip and spring onion pudding, garlic and pine nuts red pepper houmous - £6.50

Scotch egg from Ginger Pig for brunch - £3

Peppers, aubergine and a couple of zucchinis -t o make my lovely roasted veg and chick peas for lunches - from Tony - £2.30

Bread and milk and clotted cream from Neals Yard - an exact £8

Almond croissant and another little cottage tin loaf for excellent toast - £3.20

A total of £98.50 - not sure where it all went!

This time last year we were mostly eating spiced beef and bali salad - highly recommended for a touch of sun in winter

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sea Trout Poached in White Wine

Continuing the experimentation with fish I had planned to buy some red mullet for a simple recipe from River Café but discovered when I got to Furness that it was £18 a kilo - the same price as veal chops at the Ginger Pig and £4 a kilo more than 45 day aged rump steak which I buy as an occasional treat. Just can't bring myself to pay that much for something I'm a bit uncertain about. Don't think I've ever eaten it even. So I bottled it on the mullet front and bought a couple of silvery sea trout for £3 each. Positive bargain.

Except that I didn't know what to do with them either! Flicked through a few recipes and the general consensus was for poaching. I had already bought tarragon at Booths for the stuffing for Sunday's roast lamb so that seemed like a good herb to add, along with the delicate fern of fennel from the garden and the spray of seeds. The man said slices of onion - he may know more than me so that was in too.

Sea Trout Poached in White Wine
2 very fresh sea trout
1 onion, peeled and very finely sliced
Half a dozen sprigs of fresh tarragon and the same of fennel
Half a teaspoon of fennel seeds
2 tbspn olive oil
200ml white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash the fish under a cold tap and pat dry. Put about half the onion and herbs into the cavity of the fish. Pour the olive oil into a baking dish big enough to hold the fish. Strew a little onion and some herbs ino the bottom of the pan then lay the fish on top. Top with the remaining aromatics and season generously. Pour around the white wine and cover the whole lot with foil.

Cook in a moderate/gas 5 oven for about 45-50 minutes. Serve onto warm plates with a little sauce drizzled over and accompanied by some new potatoes and buttered leeks.

They were perfectly cooked and the herbs added flavour and the sauce definitely adding a lift to the dish. I enjoyed it but not entirely - there was a vague muddy note to the fish and it wasn't entirely the kind of flavour and texture combination that I really go for. I liked the sauce the best! If I did make it again I might try the same method with a different fish perhaps. To do it again with this would be for the sake of having fish supper not because I really wanted it.

But I would like to try sea trout differently - wrapped in bacon and barbecued or char-grilled - a smoky crispy note might make them sing (or swim) for me!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cured Mackerel

Wikipedia - that wonderful source of endless information - says 'Mackerel is an oily-fleshed sea fish found throughout the oceans of the world. The flesh is strong-flavoured and the fish is bony, which means it is not a fish for beginners.' Guess what I bought Saturday!

Where fish is concerned I would certainly class myself a beginner. But I have to say the results of my experiment with this incredibly beautiful looking fish were spectacular - as close to perfect as you can get when you start off with an idea rather than a destination in mind. I have in the past cured fillets of salmon with very good results. Extrapolating from that I wondered about doing the same thing to mackerel because even though I do not like them cooked at all I have enjoyed mackerel sashimi.

On Saturday I went to Furness Fish and selected a couple of shiny tiger-skinned beauties. I asked the fishmonger to fillet and skin them for me - he is much more skilled and his knives are a hell of a lot sharper than mine. It took him less than a minute. The good news is that is all the hard work done.

Cured Mackerel
2 very fresh mackerel, filleted and skinned, leaving about 350g fish
1 bunch coriander, chopped stems and all
1 1/2 tbspns salt
1 1/2 tbspns sugar
1 tbspn grated ginger
Chopped zest of a lemon

Mix everything together except the fish.

Rub your fingers lightly over the flesh side to find any remaining bones - there may well be a few, as Wikipedia points out. They come out very easily with tweezers pulling in the direction they lie in the flesh. (Tweezers don't cost very much and are surprisingly useful in the kitchen for fiddly things.)

Put the fish into a ceramic or glass dish on what was the skin side down. Cover with the herb/salt/sugar mix and pat it into the flesh. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 12-18 hours. A lot of liquid will be drawn out of the fish and will pool in the dish.

Take the fillets from the dish, scrape off the topping, rinse briefly and pat dry with kitchen paper. Slice very thinly and serve - I had them with Japanese soy to dip, pickled ginger and trout roe and tiny cake forks though they would have worked well piled onto Japanese seaweed crackers I think. Had none to test that particular theory.

Utterly delightful. A most perfect amuse bouche with salty, sweet, spice and fishy in every forkful. We had it before lunch on Sunday with the lovely Marie. I wanted something entertaining and very light to fill the first half hour or so after she arrived.
I find if you lay out the usual big bowl of nuts or strips of raw veg to slather with dips that though it is very welcoming it does tend to take the edge off hunger. As I was serving cauliflower and truffle soup followed by roasted lamb stuffed with spinach and tarragon and full roast veg and then apple and walnut cake with Montgomery cheddar I wanted to keep the hunger in place for later.

Monday, November 26, 2007

And This Week... I Bought

Spectacularly cold at Borough Saturday morning - all the stallholders were wrapped up in woolly hats and big jumpers and fingerless gloves. Though I was wearing lots of layers I was thoroughly chilled by the time we finished shopping.

At the beginning we went to Ginger Pig for lamb bones but they had none so got a couple of veal bones instead -the lamb bones were meant to make base for sauce with Sunday's roast so these ended up in the freezer to use in a stew perhaps another time and two pork chops grilled for dinner Monday night with mash and sprouts and it was deeply pleasurable as well as quick and easy - £3.80

After that it was Furness Fish to continue the experiment aquatic. I bought two fat little mackerel that I had filleted and then cured and sliced and served with ginger and soy as an elegant little mouthful before lunch on Sunday and two sea trout that had been simply gutted which I poached in white wine and herbs and served with new potatoes and leeks for supper Saturday - £8.90

Then we went to Wild Beef for eggs - had one boiled with lunch on Thursday and used a couple in a not entirely successful apple and walnut cake on Sunday - £1.50

I was delighted to see the man from Seldom Seen at his stall again selling fabulous slices of cooked goose stuffed duck stuffed chicken perfect sandwich filling on Saturday. He's encouraging all his shoppers to supply their own bags and cut down on waste which can only be a good thing. Next week will be the last time he's there for the year so will have to seek him out - £2

Bought some Borough Market xmas cards - not sure if they qualify as part of the weekly shop but they are lovely - £7.50

Next was coffee at Monmouth - this week they had one lot of Costa Rican beans that were labelled Cup of Excellence and were twice the price of the rest. Turns out that CofE is a strict competition that selects the very best coffee produced in that country for that particular year - and then the beans are auctioned over the internet and sold to the highest bidder. The high price paid is a reward to the farmer for the excellence of their production. As a fan of Costa Rican coffee I couldn't resist - bought 250g of beans - it is certainly very very good - for £8

A little wander round the stalls on the far side made me tempted by a jar of shaved bottarga but resisted till I have a recipe in which to use it but was seduced by a jar of trout roe from Orkney Rose Sunday snack - £4.25

Then on to Booths for veg - potatoes various boiled, rasted and mashed (might do sauté this week to run the whole gamut), mushrooms stuffed the lamb, turnip mashed with lunch on Sunday because it was so good last week, leeks with fish, carrots, sugarsnaps lunchboxes, brussel sprouts Monday dinner, tarragon stuffing the lamb, cauliflower soup as a starter on Sunday and enough in the freezer for another starter, bananas, clementines lunchboxes - £9.90 the lot

A warm sausage roll for miss piggy's breakfast from Ginger Pig - £3

Half a kilo of spinach from Tony to stuff my lamb - £1.50

Milk, bread, pasta, cream and Montgomery cheddar from Neals Yard - £21.40

And an almond croissant from Flour Power and a square tin loaf I've been eyeing off for a while because the sign says 'makes great toast' they didn't lie and it's only a pound - £3.20

A reasonable £74.95

This time last year we really enjoyed Cinnamon Chicken.

So the week ended up

Saturday - sausage roll and almond croissant for brunch, goose sandwich for lunch poached fish with new potatoes and leeks for supper

Sunday - toast and coffee, followed by cured mackerel, then cauliflower and truffle soup, roast lamb stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and tarragon with gravy, roast potatoes, mashed turnip and peas followed by apple and walnut cake with Montgomery cheddar. No dinner surprisingly.

Monday - coffee and cereals - the man likes bran flakes, I like raw rolled oats, both with milk - same all week for both of us, cold lamb with leftover potatoes and raw veg for lunch, grilled pork chops with mash and sprouts for supper

Tuesday - cold lamb with white bean salad herbed with the rest of the tarragon and some herbs from the garden and raw veg, dinner was cauliflower soup with bread and cheddar

Wednesday - last of the lamb for lunch, pasta with porcini, tomato and cream for supper

Thursday the man had leftover pasta for lunch and I had a boiled egg, the last of the beans and some raw veg and we went to see Rhinoceros at the Royal Court so we had a lovely supper at Le Cercle beforehand

Friday - only fruit left so lunch will be bought then supper will be burgers from mince from the freezer with bread and salad with the last of the carrots and celery and organic vac packed beetroot that have been in the fridge for a while

As for leftovers there is still some cheese but it will be good Sunday on a cheese board and a few sprouts that may not go any further

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Venison Stew

A while ago the man and I spent a long weekend with his sister and her husband and family on their beautiful farm in Cornwall. They raise organic cattle - huge sleek beasts that are sold through a local butcher. They have also planted hundreds of trees to create ideal conditions for the regeneration of local wildlife and to replenish the land. It is a programme that requires taking the long view - none of the hurried immediacy of city life. It is years in the making. One of the benefits of the small forest they have created is the return of wild deer. Their numbers have now grown so much that they must be culled once a year to retain the eco balance. His sister had a freezer stuffed with venison - lucky woman! We feasted one night on a saddle slow roasted in the Aga served up with cranberry and port sauce and a full medley of vegetables - wonderful food.

Wild venison has been eaten for centuries in the UK. Samuel Pepys was a fan. On 5th July 1662 he writes in his diary: "I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done." The umbles - the heart, liver and entrails - often baked into a pie though in the 14th century they were called numbles. It is possible that the baking of them into pies caused the change in name - a numble pie became an umble pie. That the lights are most likely to be eaten by the poor is thereby likely to be the source of the further transformation to humble pie - isn't language wonderful?
Anyway as we left for home our charming hosts were kind enough to be give us a sizeable piece of venison for eating another day. It went into our freezer as summer was approaching. Last week as the winter slipped in with blue skies and frozen nights I realised it was time to make my first ever venison stew. A little research suggested marinating for a couple of days was a good idea and so that was where I started. I defrosted the meat and the flesh was dark to the point of purple nights with no fat to be seen at all.
I wanted a final dish that was reminsicent of the woods, rather than the sweetness of berries or citrus which are often the suggested flavourings. So after marinating the meat for a couple of days in red wine with onions, bay and parsley I slow cooked it with field mushrooms and celery for a really rich dark stew. Carrots added to finish added just a hint of sweetness and a splash of colour.

Venison Stew

1kg stewing venison, cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
6 celery stalks, thickly sliced on the diagonal
300g field mushrooms, thickly sliced
25g plain flour
Salt and black pepper
200g carrots, peeled and sliced to the thickness of a pound coin


1/2 bottle red wine
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp coriander seeds
6 juniper berries, roughly crushed
A few parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf

In a large bowl combine the red wine, oil, onion, coriander, juniper, parsley sprigs and bay leaf. Toss the venison cubes in the marinade to coat them thoroughly, cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge, turning occasionally, for 2 days.

Lift the venison and onion out of the marinade. Strain and reserve the marinade.
Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole, add the venison and onion and cook for 10 minutes until well browned. Lift out onto a plate.

Lower the heat, add the celery and mushrooms, and cook for a few minutes until softened. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually blend in the marinade and bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.

Return the venison, onion, celery, and mushrooms to the casserole and season to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and cook in a preheated over at 100C, Gas 1 for 3 or 4 hours. Turn off the heat and leave to cool.

Next day add the carrots and bring to a simmer on the top of the stove. Simmer very gently for up to an hour till all is tender.

We had it with turnip mashed with butter and pepper and some brussel sprouts and it was a proper winter supper. There was plenty more for the next night but it would also freeze well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Spice Crusted Salmon with Mint Chutney

I wonder on and off about eating more fish - it is healthy, provides oils not found elsewhere, and generally adds a different texture and flavour to dishes. It has a whole repertoire that I seldom tap in to. There are reasons for this - I haven't cooked much fish so it is not familiar and is therefore daunting. I do not like 'fishy' fish - the strong flavour of oily fish - though I do like mackerel raw and I do think tastes can be acquired. There is the whole vexed matter of sustainability, the disastrous decline in native fish stocks in UK waters. I confess I do not know enough about it to shop wisely - though it is true that that is easily remedied with some research. It is reasonably expensive to buy most fish and that makes me tentative - if I cook it badly then it's a bruising defeat.

But when I was making the vague list that accompanies us every week on the trip to Borough Market on Friday evening I asked the man what he'd like for dinner Saturday and he said 'Fish'. So that was it. I'd enjoyed watching Hugh Fearmley-Whittingstall's programme on fish in the week, and was taken with his pleasure in organic farmed salmon - good quality fish that is sustainably produced. Flicking through some cookbooks it took a while for something to really leap out at me - but eventually I found this in Christine Manfield's Spice. It was simple and utterly delicious. Fast too - from go to whoah in half an hour.

Spice Crusted Salmon
2 pieces of organic salmon fillet, about 150 - 200g per piece
150ml vegetable oil
1 large dried chilli
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 tspn black peppercorns
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
1 tspn brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoons nigella seeds
1/4 tspn ground cassia (I didn't have any but it didn't matter)
1/4 tspn ground ginger
2 tspns salt
20g chick pea (gram) flour

To make the spice crust, in a small frypan dry roast chilli and whole spices except mustard and nigella seeds over gentle heat until fragrant and slightly coloured. Cool then grind to a fine powder - in a pestle and mortar is the hard way, in an old coffee grinder is the easy way. Stir in mustard and nigella seeds, ground cassia and ginger, salt and chick pea flour.

Coat the fish thoroughly.

Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan and cook the fish for 3 minutes until fish is a paler pink at the base. Turn fish over and cook for another 2 minutes. The fish should be rosy-rare in the middle and crusted gold on the outside.

Mint Chutney

1 cup firmly packed mint leaves
6 spring onions, sliced
3 small chillis, sliced
1 tspn minced ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tspn fish sauce
2 tspns castor sugar
1 tspn garam masala
60ml fresh lime juice
50ml vegetable oil

Blend all the ingredients to a smooth paste, adding the oil slowly. Spoon into a bowl for serving. It will keep refrigerated in a jar for a couple of days.
We had the fish with chutney drizzled, generous servings of cucumber raita and boiled ratte potatoes. It was a seriously good meal - better perhaps than I was expecting. Which makes me think I may cook a little more fish soon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Still feels very cold for mid November so rugged up for Borough. Inside the market halls it somehow feels significantly colder - brrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Started with juice from Chegworth just for a change and got some apples - for lunches and to make a cake which I haven't quite managed but will this weekend - too - £3.62

Then to Ginger Pig for a lovely piece of topside - roasted Sunday night then cold for splendid lunch boxes till Thursday - £16.20

Furness was next as we're trying to eat some fish more regularly. There were two salmon side by side - one the colour of flourescent crab sticks and one that could accurately be described as salmon pink. The latter was organic and though more expensive was what we chose. Two nice centre fillets - spice crusted and served with mint chutney for a memorable Saturday night supper - £8.40

No eggs or cheeses this week so after a vague wander round the other side it was with delight we found the stall from Seldom Seen and so bought a slice of their speciality - goose stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken - an amazing feat - and a great sandwich filler -£3

Then it was back to Booths for lots of veg - potatoes roasted Sunday, cucumber, mint both to go with salmon Saturday, clementines lunches, mushrooms, celery, carrots all to go into earthy venison stew, sprouts, turnip to go with the venison stew, the turnip simply mashed with butter and the other half of the sprouts in a vegetable curry Thursday night with leftovers for Friday lunch, parsnips, butternut roasted hot Sunday night and cold for a day or two in lunchboxes, beans into fried rice Friday night and sugarsnaps a little limp this week but ok in lunchboxes for a couple of days- £10

A scotch egg from Ginger Pig scoffed for brunch after the market - £3

Bread and milk from Neals Yard - £6.50

Almond croissant from Flour Power was the final flourish - £2.20

A not unreasonable £52.92

This time last year we were mostly eating roasted butternut risotto and the fabulous pock-marked woman's bean curd.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Black Olive Paste

I have been making this dip for about twenty years - it is simplicity itself. Though it takes no time at all you end up with a really beautiful bowl of dip. A deep oily black flecked with tiny bits of green herbs you essentially can't go wrong with making this. Just remember to err on the side of generosity as you add the herbs.

Perfect with drinks, it's a good one to have up your sleeve as xmas approaches. It's a star at parties.

Black Olive Paste

200g black olives, pitted (you can cheat and buy them ready stoned)
1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Mix of green herbs including parsley, thyme, rosemary and basil
Fresh ground black pepper
A little olive oil to loosen the mix - or basil oil if you have some

Put everything into a blender or a bowl and use a stick blender. Whizz the mix, adding some oil to make it amalgamate, until everything is roughly chopped.

That's it. Sooooooooooooooooooo easy
It will live happily in the fridge, covered, for weeks. It is wonderful partnered with celery and peeled carrot batons and also nice with hard cheeses as part of a cheese platter. You can cook with it too - makes a great stuffing for chicken breasts or lamb. Adding a small chilli would give it a sparkly heat.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oxtail Lasagne

Oxtail as a part of supper is a sure sign that the mercury is falling. It is not (necessarily) the meat from ox - it can be from any beef cattle but it is definitely the tail. I ordered two from Wild Beef a couple of weeks ago. Each animal only has one tail (!) so as oxtail has enjoyed a renaissance over the last few years it is sensible to ask in advance to be sure they will be there. I picked them up, ready jointed, quite interesting things like a jigsaw tail that you could remake should you be so minded.

Largely bone - and luscious marrow - surrounded with coarse but sweetish flesh the only way to prepare oxtail is slowly. The time spent is richly rewarded though - starting with the lovely smell of slow cooking that fills your home through to the extraordinarily richly flavoured meal that you eventually enjoy. Most of the preparation is very quick - the time involved is largely marination and casseroling rather than anything complicated. The meat soaks in a rich juice for a day and then slow cooks in the oven for many hours and then cools to a point where the fat can be skimmed and the meat taken from the bones. After that it's just like making lasagne!

Oxtail Lasagne

For the oxtail

About 2 kgs oxtail jointed
500 ml red wine
Bouquet garni of bay, thyme and rosemary
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
l litre brown chicken stock
salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce

1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tins plum tomatoes
Sprig of rosemary
Salt and pepper

For the cheese sauce

25g butter
1 tbspn plain flour
1 litre whole milk
1/2 tspn fresh grated nutmeg
150g sheeps cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Dried lasagne sheets


For the ox tail

Put the oxtail pieces in a bowl with the wine, thyme, rosemary and bayleaf and leave to marinate overnight.. When ready to use preheat the oven to gas 1. Remove the oxtail from the bowl and pat dry, reserving the marinade. Heat about 3 tbspns of olive oil in a pan till smoking hot and carefully brown the meat all over until almost black. Remove from the pan and put them in an oven proof dish.

Wipe the pan clean. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the carrots and onion gently until soft. Add the reserved marinade and the stock and boil until reduced by half. Pour over the oxtail then transfer the dish to the oven and cook for 7-8 hours, until the meat falls from the bone. Take the dish out of the oven and remove the oxtail pieces from the dish. Strain the stock through a fine sieve. When the meat is cool enough to handle, pull it into smaller chunks, removing any fat, gristle or bone. Mix the meat with the reduced stock and season to taste.

Put half the mixture into a tub for the freezer to use another time, the rest is for the base of the lasagne.

For the tomato sauce

Fry the onion and garlic gently for about 20 minutes, till translucent. Increase the heat and add the tomatoes - break them up with a wooden spoon if they are whole - and rosemary and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer on a very low heat for about an hour. It is best to make the tomato sauce the day ahead of the lasagne - it will give it a greater depth of flavour as well as making prep on the day very quick. Remove the rosemary stick before using.

For the cheese sauce

In a heavy pan melt the butter and then stir in the flour. Keep stirring for about five minutes until it is golden in colour and smells biscuity. Increase the heat a little and start slowly adding milk, stirring all the while. By adding it gradually the sauce won't become lumpy. As each addition is absorbed add some more until you reach a consistency of thick cream. Turn the heat up fairly high then add the grated nutmeg and most of the grated cheese. Stir well with a wooden spoon till the cheese melts into the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To assemble

In a large deep baking tray spread the base with the oxtail. Cover with sheets of lasagne then top that with the tomato sauce. Add another layer of lasagne sheets then top with the cheese sauce and, lastly the remains of the grated cheese. Cook in a moderate oven, gas 4, for 50 - 60 minutes till piping hot and golden topped.

Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. Needs nothing more than a crisp green salad and lots of bread to mop up the juice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Spicy Squid

Who'd have thought it was so easy to cook squid? Straight I mean, with the little criss cross patterns and the lovely curls. We had friends coming to supper Saturday night and, due to the fact we were also going out for lunch, I needed something quick to make as a starter in case we were late back - which we were. On Friday afternoon, just as I was about to turn off my computer for the day, I noticed that the Guardian website had a video of Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall cooking spiced squid - and it lasted less than two minutes. As I had three minutes left to my day I watched it with the sound running low. Amazing how much you can learn in so little time.

Inside the squid tubes there is a ridge. You hold that section of the squid and, with a sharp knife, cut the tubes open on the opposite side so that the ridge is like a halfway divider on the opened out fish. Wipe with a cloth and this will come away quite easily. Then, using a not particularly sharp serrated kitchen knife - table rather than bread - cut diagonal lines into the flesh but not all the way through. Turn the squid 180 degrees and cut more diagonal lines to make cross hatching. Then slice the squids into strips about 3 cm wide.

The criss crosses serves two functions. When the flesh is marinated it catches the mix and holds it - it tends to slide off the pearly smooth outer side. Then, when the pieces hit a strong heat, they cuts contract and the flesh curls into those pretty pieces I've seen so often served up in restaurants.

For the marinade I just used a couple of finely chopped chillies and a couple of crushed cloves of garlic mixed with about a tablespoon of olive oil and some ground black pepper. Mix it with your hands - its has a lovely silky texture as it slithers through your fingers.

Heat a ridged grill pan as hot as you can then put in the pieces of squid, smooth side down. Using kitchen tongs, flip over after about a minute onto the cross hatching. The heat will make the pieces curl so, after another minute, turn them over again to cook the outside of the curls.

Voila! Your starter is ready. Plate up with some peppery rocket dressed with a spicy oil and some crusty bread.

Monday, November 12, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Waited ages for a bus Saturday morning - seemed none were heading towards Borough Market, then the coffee kicked in and I finally realised it was because the City was closed for the Lord Mayor's Show. Then the bus came.

Started as ever at Ginger Pig - where there is still no sign of Chris and the only sign of Karl is the one out the front with his number to call if you want to do the last of the butchery classes for the year. Bought a piece of gammon for the weeks lunches - £16.50

Then a lovely pork pie for Sunday lunch! - £4.90

This week the one off stall outside Roast was yorkshire crisps of many varities in resealable tubs. The lightly salted ones were very good so bought a tub - these were better than good so it's lucky they're not there every week or I would succumb - £2

Eggs from Wild Beef - had intended to use at least two poached on a friton salad in the week but it didn't happen so they're still in the fridge but they'll be fine next week £1.50

Then to Gastronomica because I needed some truffle cheese to make a sauce for lasagne and - disaster! - none till next week. So bought a big chunk of strong sheeps cheese- sauce to top lasagne - and a rocchetta - cheese sandwiches Thursday night - and we tried a piece of chocolate pannettone that was simply sublime and just had to have one for dessert Saturday night with David and Michael and so with the addition of a smoked mozzarella snacked it was £30 - an even split, half cake half cheese

Went to the Gastronomica shop then to try nduke - a spreadable salami that is 30% chilli - very hot but very good so bought a little slice, in the fridge but it will keep, might be a treat this weekend on celery - £2

Coffee beans - start the day -from Monmouth - £8.50

Creamy white baby squid spiced and grilled for Saturday's starter - from Furness Fish - £7

Booths for veg - sweetheart cabbage half with sausage and mash Wednesday night, potatoes mash!, lettuce , rocket - weekend salads, peppers - meant for a roasted salad to go with the squids but it didn't happen so will cook them with bacon and the last of the sugarsnaps Friday night for supper, shallots - untouched in the veg drawer, cucumber - some in weekend salad some still in the crisper, celery with black olive paste whilst menu planning for food chain Thursday night, parsley - to cook gammon and to add to olive paste, clementines - lunches - carrots to cook gammon, with sausage and mash (for colour) and raw in lunches, sugarsnaps lunches raw and cooked in pasta with peppers Friday, chicory will still be okay for weekend salad - £11

Neals Yard for milk and bread - £6.60

And the prices have finally gone up at Flour Power - almond croissant is now £2.20

A fairly hefty £92.20 for the week

This time last year I was in Bali - the only cooking I did was a day at Bumbu. Have made one or two things since I came back - spiced beef was good, bali salad is sublime. Spicy chicken stuffed with spinach was pretty special too.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Groundnut Stew

Last night I made groundnut stew for our dinner. It was a variation on an African recipe from Sunday at Moosewood - a massive tome of a book that I've had for years and dip into for inspiration for vegetarian delights. It offers insights and recipes from many countries and the results are almost always good.

I know very little about any food of African origin beyond their use of millet as a cooked grain in the way that I use rice and that most stews are thickened with ground nuts or seeds which is pretty poor really. The food of a whole continent is unfamiliar.

So I read through the chapter on the southern african and decided I would try groundnut stew. One ingredient was okra - a vegetable that I find utterly disagreeable in all its slimy incarnations, so I didn't put that on the shopping list but I did buy sweet potatoes and cabbage, I had some green beans in the fridge needed using so I substituted those for the okra and I had some tomatoes from the garden that I'd ripened in a paper bag. I bought pre packed tomato and apple juice so I was ready to roll.

Except that I had no idea what final dish I was attempting so I was suddenly filled with misgivings Thursday night when I got home, convinced it would be a disaster. Cabbage boiled in tomato juice - just didn't seem like a good starting point. So I read through the recipe again and decided that the biggest thing that didn't ring true was the spicing - half a teaspoon of cayenne, and one each of garlic and ginger simply didn't seem enough to have any effect.

When I first came to London I was planning to cook something one night that required some chilli. As I was in Brixton I went to one of the African groceries and bought a 500g tin of nigerian chilli powder. The first time I used it I was very generous with my measures - a habit of mine - and nearly blew the top of my head off it was so hot. But somewhere in the midst of the burning sensation was also an amazing flavour, so I kept the tin and practised using small amounts. Twenty years later I am coming to the end of that tin - I will go to Brixton and hopefully buy another when it's finished - but it seemed to me that it would be the source of reassurance I was looking for to make my groundnut stew. Using only a scant teaspoon I was delighted to smell its rich toasty aroma as it hit the heat and it was indeed the key. The final dish was lovely - deep terracotta, sweet and spicy and rich.

And, for the man and me, something entirely new.

Groundnut Stew

1 large spanish onion, finely chopped
2 tbspns peanut oil - this adds flavour but use vegetable oil if you have none
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tspn hot chilli powder - african if you're lucky enough to find some
1 small sweetheart cabbage, shredded but not too finely
1 large red sweet potato, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tomatoes, chopped
600ml tomato juice
200ml apple juice
Salt and pepper to taste
150g fine green beans, topped and tailed and cut in half
100g peanut butter - smooth or crunchy is fine
4 tbspns chopped coriander leaves

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion for about 15 minutes till translucent. Stir through the garlic and chilli powder and cook for a few more minutes. Add the sweet potato and cabbage, cover and sweat in the pan over a medium heat for five minutes. Add the ginger, tomatoes, both of the juices and the salt and pepper and simmer till the sweet potato is almost tender - about twenty minutes. Toss in the green beans and cook for a few minutes. Then stir in the peanut butter - it will instantly thicken the stew and turn it an even richer colour

Warm through gently. Add the coriander just before serving. We had it with a little spiced banana - probably too sweet and likely should have been plantain - and some sourdough bread for starch. Tonight I will have some brown rice and perhaps a boiled egg with the leftovers.

The end result was a fabulous dinner using seasonal vegetables and the pleasure of having tried something really new, to be daring. Perhaps fortune really does favour the brave.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fruit Cake

The recipe here is for a boiled fruit cake which to modern ears sounds decidedly dire, somehow nasty. In part perhaps because fruit cake is going out of fashion - it is all baked froth with garish icing at one end of the market and fresh cream and french butter at the other. It's a shame really - a good fruit cake is a joy. It is a properly substantial cake - bringing mine into work on the bus it seemed to weigh a tonne - with a spiced crumb wrapped around fatttened fruits, perhaps with the addition of a little heat from glacé ginger or a sour tang from a dollop of marmalade early in the mix. Each cake is different but it's not a temperamental thing to make. You can boil the first set of ingredients and leave it with a lid on overnight till you have time next day to add eggs and flour and it will still cook to perfection. Once finished it will last for ages, dark and moist and inviting in an airtight tin, needing only a cup of something hot to bring a little pleasure to the day.

This recipe comes from my grandmother Dodie via my mother and, for all intents and purposes, I have been eating it all my life. The handing on of this recipe, its history, adds to its specialness. It's important to keep the best of the old fashioned stuff - the continuity enriches today in a way that something new simply doesn't.

Dodie’s Boiled Fruit Cake

500g packet mixed fruit
Plus any little extras eg ginger, citrus peel, marmalade etc
1 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
125 g (4oz) butter
1 tspn mixed spice
½ tspn ground ginger
1 tspn bicarb of soda
2 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1 cup self raising flour

Put all the ingredients down to the ground ginger into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add bicarb and stir while it fizzes and foams. Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pan and leave it to cool.

When the cake mixture is cold, first stir in the eggs and then the flour.

Cook at 150F/ gas 3 for about an hour or so…perhaps a little longer (says my mother). It is cooked when a skewer into the centre comes out clean.

Pour a little sherry over the hot cake. Leave it to cool in the cake pan it was cooked in which you cover with foil and then a bread board or tea towel. This makes for a nice moist cake.

I covered it with lemon and coconut icing because that's the way I have always eaten it but the icing is definitely optional.

Monday, November 05, 2007

And this week ... I bought

It was my birthday weekend, the sun was shining and all was right with the world. Borough Market is good in the sun.

Started as always at Ginger Pig for a couple of thick t-bone steaks - proper Australian party food Sunday night with a little salad and a glass of fine red. Bought a chicken as well - had some cooked rice in the fridge and some bacon so it would make a good stuffing - a pretty fab lunch box for the week, and a couple of pork chops - had meant them for Monday night but there was cold steak and salad so the pork is in the freezer - a whopping £36.80 (but I'm worth it!)

Where the big turkish fruit and nut stall used to be outside the entrance to roast there is now a collection of different traders for a one off day at the market. We were waylaid by the sight of dozens of golden cased pies but, with all that meat, we really didn't need one even with the buy one get one free the nice man was offering. Further round I couldn't resist trying a sample of hot beef sausage from Blackbrook Farm's one off stall and it was good. Called over to the man - he is a sausage officianado - he agreed. So, despite the fact that I am trying to empty the freezer at the moment I bought a pack to eat at a later date and freeze in the meantime - £3.80

A dozen eggs from Wild Beef - no Lizzie or Richard but a young man serving - eggs into fruitcake and stuffing and a couple boiled hard to top salade nicoise Wednesday night -£2.50

No cheeses from Gastronomica as we hadn't finished all from last week, but it is now!

Back over to the other side for apples - lunches - from Chegworth - £1.20

Bought wonderful mozzarella and parma ham from the stall that sells nothing else for decadent sandwiches for Saturday lunch - £8.20

At Booths I saw my friend Andrea - it was nice to have a chat and she recommended the clementines as particularly good so we had some of those as well as carrots, onions, lettuce, rocket, peppers, sweet potatoes for groundnut stew Thursday night with enough leftover for supper Friday, aubergine meant it for the groundnut stew but decided against using it so it will be okay in the next few days, sweetheart cabbage with carrots for coleslaw in lunches that was just fantastic, sugarsnap peas and bananas - a very reasonable £7.50

Feeling decidedly Miss Piggy I bought a scotch egg for my breakfast from Ginger Pig - £3

Neals Yard for milk and bread - £7.40

The man wanted almond croissant and the brownie can't be forgotten - £3.50

A not altogether outrageous £73.90 - even with t-bone

This time last year I made chocolate truffle cake for my birthday and we were also enjoying penne with aubergine, mozzarella and tomato. Possibly a use for my aubergine!

Monday, October 29, 2007


Porridge - provider of individualised central heating. Traditionally made with oats, it has been cold climate breakfast for thousands of years. It's very good for you apparently - the carbs release slowly keeping you cheerful for longer and they contain a good smattering of vitamins as well as lots of fibre. When I start making porridge on a weekend it means autumn is here. The clocks changed this week.

Crofters in Scotland used to have a porridge drawer. At the start of the week they would cook up a big pan of porridge then, when it was ready, tip it into the drawer. The idea of performing this act makes me laugh out loud. (I have a vision of doing this and then someone coming to visit and, because neither they nor I are crofters, not realising what awaits and putting an unsuspecting hand in searching for cutlery and finding ...) What the crofters did was let it cool and set and then cut big squares of it to take out with them to work in the fields.

Production and cooking methods vary. Scots - or pinhead - oats are chopped rather than rolled and so are much smaller and therefore cook faster. At its most basic though - whatever the size you choose - it is oats to liquid at a ratio of 1:2.

My preference is rolled oats - 1 mug, whole milk - 2 mugs and a pinch of salt, heat to a simmer, reduce the heat then stir with a wooden spoon for ten minutes. This way the porridge will be creamy and smooth and won't stick to the bottom of the pan creating a nightmare for the washing up fairy. It's a Sunday thing - stirring round and round when still half asleep, maybe attempting to read the magizine from the Observer at the same time, just gentle and quiet and at the same time creative. The result of so few ingredients and such a small, contained amount of effort, is a bowl of porridge, smooth and creamy. The creation of contentment.

I like it served with butter and light brown sugar. The man likes his cooked the same way but served with milk and dark brown sugar. Goldilocks was definitely on to something trying before finding the one that was not too hot, not too cold but instead just right-and scoffing the lot!

And this week ... I bought

Early Saturday was very quiet at Borough Market making for a very pleasant shop. We didn't go to Ginger Pig for possibly the first time ever but I had decided I really wanted to try some wild boar as the roast for the week and so bought a lovely piece from Silfield Farm but a very expensive £26.70 We had some grilled wild boar chops from there a few weeks ago that were very good. I really enjoyed them - am hoping for the same for the roast. I so wanted this to be fabulous and it wasn't. We had a lovely roast dinner Monday and the leftovers made for great lunches but it wasn't uniquely special - the sort of thing that elicits a spontaneous wow! It was very good indeed but at that kind of price I don't imagine I would buy another roast - though would get some chops occasionally.

Next was collecting some oxtail I'd ordered from Lizzie at Wild Beef - not to be eaten this week but to marinate and cook to be ready later for the base of lasagne. Slow cooked in red wine and in the freezer for another day. It takes a couple of days of to have it perfect. Also bought eggs - poached on top of a friton salad Saturday night and the rest scrambled on toast Sunday night - which have gone up in price because the feed is doubling in price because so much of it is now being turned in to biodiesel, it is the same thing that is forcing bread prices up - so the total was £16.50

Cheese from Gastromica - a lovely creamy goat's cheese, a special toma that has been ripening nicely snacking - and a strong hard cow's milk, probably to grate over pasta - £10

Semi dried olives and a tub of dolmades from Taste of Turkey for more snacking on - £4.75

Apples - lunches -from Chegworth and a big cup of juice - £3.22

Delighted to see that Booths have yukon gold potatoes roast in again so lots of those as well as cabbage, lettuce, rocket, friton salad Saturday night, brussel sprouts roast, beans, sugarsnaps lunches, cucumber salad, butternut squash, swede, onions, carrots more for the roast Monday night and cold for lunch next day and bananas - £8
Milk, bread and pasta from Neals Yard - £8.60

Chocolate brownie and an almond croissant rounded off the mornings shop at Flour Power - £3.50

So a not excessive £81.27 for the week

The week as it turned out was cheese sandwiches for lunch Saturday then friton (little crsipy duck bits I buy in france and warm through) and walnut salad with crusty bread for supper

Sunday was the joy of porridge for breakfast - first for the autumn then lunch out at the Roxy watching trashy films like Dodgeball, then scrambled eggs on toast for tea

Monday I had boiled egg and salad for lunch - my man had started with the idea we were having nicoise for supper Saturday and so boiled some eggs which was lovely with crunchy things and then I roasted the wild boar and had it with butternut and swede in the same pan and goose fat potatoes separately and boiled brussel sprouts - all the prep is at the beginning then dinner is served when it's ready - no further effort required

Tuesday I had raw oats with milk for breakfast - nice and creamy with a little bite to them and cold roast for lunch. Dentist in the afternoon meant the rest of the parsnip soup was the perfect dinner, a little bread from the freezer to go with it

Wednesday -still in pain, so soft bread for lunch for me, roast and salad for the man, and I made a big pan of warmly spiced dal with fresh coriander chopped through at the end

Thursday - roast and dal for lunch, then roasted spiced cauliflower and peas with rice and cucumber in yoghurt for dinner - a bowl of pale flecked with green

Friday - the last of the roast with dal and cauliflower for lunch and will use the green beans with some bacon from the freezer to make pasta for supper with a salad

So left over from the week is a cabbage which I'd intended to have with a venison stew but the venison remains in the freeezer till next week as I made dal instead. I will probably cook it tomorrow night to go with roast chicken stuffed with the leftover rice from Thursday and the last of the carrots. Some cheese is still in the fridge too - but I'm contemplating having that tonight when I get in with a glass of red - it is Friday - and I'm worth it!

Spicy Parsnip Soup

I got a little over excited on the root vegetable front at the market on Saturday and so, by time I got to doing the veg for the roast I didn't bother with the parsnips but didn't really have an alternative for them either. But they are a lovely versatile vegetable, sweet and starchy, good in many forms - grated raw in salads, mashed with butter and cream as well as an ideal accompaniment to roast dinners.

My man has a passion for them curried in soup - he told me once it was his favourite dish. Winter feels like it is coming, parsnips need frost to sweeten properly, and soup is the antidote to cold nights that follow short bleak days. Perfect. I didn't have any curry powder but that was no reason to fret.
Spicy Parsnip Soup

2 or 3 big fat parsnips about a kilo in weight
1 potato, floury and about the size of your fist
1 tspn cummin seeds
1 tspn brown mustard seeds
1 tspn coriander seeds
1 tbspn oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbspn ginger, grated
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1 tbspn garam masala
1 litre stock
100ml fresh cream
Salt and pepper

Peel the parsnips and potato and cut them into chunks roughly the same size. Heat the oil in a large heavy based pan and throw in all the seeds. Stand back - they will spit and splatter like an anxious cat. When it calms a little reduce the heat and add onions, ginger, garlic and chilli. Cook over a gentle heat until the onion is translucent - 15 minutes or so. By this time it should be lovely and fragrant.

Add the vegetables and stir to coat then add the stock. Simmer for 20 -25 minutes till the veg are soft. Take the pan off the heat and blitz till smooth. For ultra smooth then push through a fine sieve - but I'd only do that if I wanted to serve it as a starter. For autumn suppers it's better a little roughly textured.

Return the pan to the heat and stir in the garam masala and cream. Cook gently for a few minutes then serve in big bowls with crusty bread on the side.

Made with love for the man I love who loves this kind of soup. I created bliss on a Friday night.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hot Cabbage Salad

A few weeks ago I was browsing the bbc website looking for a recipe from the previous night's edition of Nigella Express. I simply put the word 'Nigella' into the search engine and up popped the recipes I wanted and also a few from the so called Indian Nigella - Anjum Anand. I assumed the bbc web editors were simply ahead of the zeitgeist or showing some lateral thinking in their linking. One particularly caught my eye for hot spicy cabbage - great use of seasonal veg.

So this week I had a cabbage and found the recipe again and was just a tiny bit disappointed to find that one of the ingredients was nigella. The spice not the goddess. Nigella in the kitchen refers to the deep black, sharp-cornered seed grains from the species Nigella Sativa which have no obvious scent to entice you when you open a pot in the way that say, cumin, does but when ground or chewed they have an aromatic slightly bitter flavour. Subtle and possibly a little bit peppery it develops its flavour best in contact with a hot pan, dry or oiled.

Ornamental breeds – of which I have some in my garden - are called Love in the Mist or Devil in the Bush - a really pretty plant with pale blue flowers. Nigella has been used since antiquity by Asian herbalists and pharmacists and was used for culinary purposes by the Romans. The seeds are known to repel certain insects and can be used like moth balls. The name nigella derives from the Latin nigellus, or niger, meaning black. Look here for an interesting list of the name for nigella and the name for black in countries around the world.

This turned out to be a really quick, easy and fabulous dish with bright clean colours and flavours and a really interesting mix of textures. Sadly the rice and lentils I made with another recipe from Anjum Anand was the opposite - utter failure due to wildly incorrect quantities which was depressing. It really infuriates me when I make something that doesn't work though I tell myself it's inevitable and in this case wasn't even my fault but still I'd rather it never happened.

Hot Cabbage Salad

1 tbsp mustard oil or vegetable oil
A small pinch asafoetida (available in Asian stores and some supermarkets)
¾ tsp brown mustard seeds
¾ nigella seeds (available in Asian stores and some supermarkets)
2 small dried red chillies, whole
1 tbsp chopped peanuts - rub the skins off raw nuts before crushing
10 curry leaves (available fresh or dried from Asian grocers)
1 Savoy cabbage head, finely shredded
salt, to taste
In a large wok or non-stick saucepan, heat the oil until it is smoking. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the oil to cool for ten seconds. Return the pan to the hob, turn the heat down and fry the asafoetida and mustard and nigella seeds for 30 seconds. Add the chillies and peanuts and fry for a further minute or until the peanuts have started to colour.

Once cooked, stir in the curry leaves, cabbage and salt, to taste. Stir-fry for ten minutes making sure that the cabbage retains some firmness.

Serve with rice and another dish, spicy corn fritters had been my original plan - should have stuck to it!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Last week we went to Venice - I've never been before and it was way more marvellous than anyone has ever described. A simply extraordinary piece of magic. Out around Murano there are barges mooed on the edge of the canal selling fresh fruit and vegetables - an interesting way to shop, no?

Back in London for the weekend and it was to landlocked Borough Market that the man went on his own Saturday morning as I had to be elsewhere. But I did give him an extensive list, much simplified from my usual mishmash of notes. I have no idea of the cost as I was not there but I do know what I was planning to do with all the goodies.

The list starts with unsmoked bacon oysters and a small chicken - it will be from Ginger Pig because we always start there and because they have the best bacon in the world, bar none and my man knows this as he is a bacon connoisseur having eaten vast quantities of it - mostly in a roll - during the course of his life. The plan for the bacon was to put some into a bolognaise sauce I was making for dinner Sunday and leftovers Tuesday - the mince was from the freezer from the lot I bought last week at Wild Beef. More of the bacon went into barley stuffing for the chicken which was roasted, with a couple more rashers draped across it's plump little breast to moisten them and slow the skin turning gold. It made a simple but elegant supper with nothing more than a green salad and some buttered swiss brown bread and was then lovely sandwiches Sunday with cucumber and a grinding of black pepper. The last of it was lunchboxes Monday with salad. Not bad for one little chicken.

Next was roast beef - from Wild Beef because the last roast from there was divine and I wanted to order some oxtail as winter is well on its way now that the ground has frost early mornings. It made a delightful dinner Monday night with decadently fabulous goose fat potatoes and was sliced cold into lunchboxes Tuesday and Wednesday.

Fruit and veg from Booths - red potatoes for roasting with beef, sweet potatoes and onions the same, sugarsnaps, cucumber, celery, peppers, lettuce and rocket for salads and lunches, carrots with roast beef and into lunchboxes for colour now the baby tomatoes are past their best, leeks and parsnips were also intended for the beef dinner but realised I may have been a little too enthusiastic on the root veg component so I steamed the leeks and need another plan for the parsnips. Having made stock recently for the freezer, decided on curried parsnip soup for supper Friday. Bunch of bananas for lunches. There was a cabbage on the list too but it must have got complicated around about then and it never made it into the (cloth) bag. Oh well.

Some russets from Chegworth Valley for lunchboxes and coffee from Monmouth to make my day start with a sip of pleasure.
Neals Yard for the usual bread, milk and yoghurt though somehow the spaghetti didn't get go
Last on my list was a tiny challenge - Saturday lunch - so the man could have something good that he picked himself - apart from the obligatory brownie obviously. His choice was a perfect dressed crab from Shellseekers which we piled onto crusty baguette to sate our hunger after going to the movies to see the fascinating, if utterly obscure, Syndromes and a Century. See it if you can.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Carrot and Dill Salad

Been looking for fast and interesting lately. As the year seeps away with no sign of summer I suddenly feel the need to be making salads - as accompaniments at least if not the main event. Blades of peppery rocket with halved baby plum tomatoes topped with basil oil, sweet potatoes roasted with whole onions and thyme served room temperature, fennel and celery with a sharp vinaigrette. The days are colder and darker but they end with a big bright bang.

Last night we had wild boar chops from Silfield Farm. Slightly stronger meat than a similar cut from the saddlebacks of Ginger Pig they grilled up juicy and toothsome with a good crackle of rind. I had a small bunch of fresh dill in the fridge that I wanted to use so it was to be star salad of the evening.

I like dill weed with its dinstinctively gentle aniseedy taste. A herb that's been around forever, it has been accorded many properties over the years. Considered a symbol of good luck by first century Romans, dill has also been thought to possess magical properties. The bruised seeds impart their virtues to alcohol and to boiling water. Hippocrates had a recipe for cleaning the mouth: "Clean teeth with ball of Wool dipped in Hone {honey}, rense with 1 tsp. of dill seed boiled in 1/2 cup of white wine” - that combination would surely make a good salad dressing. It has been used as well to guard against witchcraft and for potency in love potions. In Drayton's Nymphidia are the lines:

'Therewith her Vervain and her Dill,
That hindereth Witches of their Will.'

Such possibilities!

Had some sweet fat carrots as well in fridge, so this was the result.

Carrot & Dill Salad
3 or 4 largish carrots
2 tblspns chopped fresh dill
1 tbpsn spiced oil
Splash of lemon juice
Salt and cracked pepper

Grate the carrots - or better still get your trusty assistant to do so for you - into a bowl. Mix in all the other ingredients. Serve.

Easy. Tasty. Beautiful too.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Penne with Bacon and Beans

I made a wonderful pasta dinner last night. It was something of an experiment as I'd bought a bit of an unbalanced collection of stuff at Borough on the weekend with the idea of an enormous variety of salads but without a structure to go with them. As the weather becomes bleaker and the days are noticeably shorter I am chasing the last taste of summer. The produce is still there and it seems like madness to not use it while I can. Much as I love sprouts and parsnips there are months and months ahead where they will be the only option.

I'd been thinking about basil oil - I had a wildly successful plant this year (first time ever in London) and I wanted to use the rest of the plant before the leaves shriveled and fell off. I am coming to the end of a bottle of basil oil and so voila! that was my answer - make my own. Which got me thinking about how much I like the basil oil. I had a couple of handfuls of thin green beans, originally to stir fry with garlic and paprika and some rashers of unsmoked bacon. Pasta could be good.

Penne with Bacon and Beans

150g/6oz thin green beans, topped and tailed and cut in half
300g/12 oz penne or other small pasta
1 tbspn olive oil
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 dried chilli, crushed
2 tbspns chopped flat leaf parsley
150g/6oz unsmoked bacon, cut into thin strips
Basil oil to garnish

Bring a pan of water to the boil, throw the beans in. When the water returns to the boil drain the beans and run under cold water. They should be bright green and squeaky. Put more salted water on to boil and add the pasta. In a separate pan heat the olive oil and add the parsley, garlic and chilli. Cook over a very gentle heat till fragrant then add the bacon and increase the heat slightly. Stir occasionally.

When the pasta is cooked take out about a cup of the cooking water then drain. Add the green beans to the bacon, stir and then mix into the pasta with some of the cooking water to keep it loose. Stir to make sure it is well mixed then serve into large bowls and top with a slug of basil oil.

This is summer in a bowl. Quick and easy - the whole lot is made in less than half an hour including chopping time. It has a great range of flavours in the grassy and sunny part of the spectrum. Make it while you can.

Cold White Rice

I am always pleased to have some cooked rice left over. It has possibilities and so gives me options and I like that. I find that it is best to leave it in the colander and put it into the fridge overnight, without covering it. This way the rice loses excess moisture and is unlikely to go claggy when it is used again. Sometimes I make fried rice - hot, tasty and easy to accommodate a variety of bits and pieces. Another good way to use cooked rice is in fishcakes - simply mix with fish, mashed potatoes and chopped onions and herbs. The rice adds texture in two ways - the bits that are on the outside go golden and crunchy when cooked and the grains on the inside add a little toothsome bite mixed in to the softness of the other ingredients without altering the flavour. A good thing.

One of my favourite things is to make a rice salad. Most of the white rice I cook is either basmati or jasmine and so it is very delicate when cooked. It balances well with sweet or sour and shows off the dressing to advantage. With about two cups of cooked rice I add two celery sticks, very finely sliced, a green pepper chopped small and a small tin of sweet corn. Mix together 3 tablespoons of olive oil with one of lemon juice and season generously then stir through the rice and vegetables. Fast, easy, looks great, tastes even better. And frugal.

Monday, October 08, 2007

And this week ... I bought

The market was remarkably quiet Saturday morning - stalls were laden but the crowds were thin. The air is cooler and the light is softer - definitely moving towards shorter days and colder nights.

My very first stop this week was Wyndhams who now sell a full range of meat as well as poultry in a revamped shop. I needed to make some stock so bought 4 carcasses and then added a couple of chicken breasts for dinner - £9.40

Then to Ginger Pig and the man liked sausages so much last week we bought loads more this week and some unsmoked bacon - £12.30

Next door at Silfield I bought a couple of wild boar chops to try something new - £6.90

Pork pie from Mrs Elizabeth King - what with rugby weekend and all - £4.90

Eggs from Lizzie at Wild Beef - £1.25

Chocolates for Mandy's birthday treat - £2
Apples and a pear to go with cheese from Chegworth Valley - £1.50

Booths had a fine display of mushrooms again this week but not the puffball slices. I bought potatoes, carrots, lettuce, beans, sugarsnaps, green pepper, nectarine, bananas, onions and sweet potatoes - £8

I bought a baguette from Marché du France for a change - £1

Neals Yard for milk bread and yoghurt - £7.90
Last of all was almond croissant and chocolate brownie - £3.50

A not unreasonable £58.65 for the week

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Roast Beef

At Borough on Saturday I bought a lovely piece of silverside from Lizzie at Wild Beef, with every intention of cooking it for Sunday supper. But I spent Sunday morning cooking lunch for 56 people with Foodchain - a charity I volunteer with - and by Sunday night I was simply too tired to contemplate it. The man made sausage and fried egg sandwiches instead - and most fine they were too.

So last night we had roast beef instead. The idea of a midweek roast may seem a little daunting, or at the least that it will take too long to cook but in fact it is very straightforward with a great end result. That there is only the two of us makes it simpler, perhaps but this could easily be done for four in the same time.

Preaheat the oven to gas 5. In a large roasting pan put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then in the centre of the pan put five or six unpeeled cloves of garlic, flattened under the blade of a kitchen knife. Place a piece of roasting beef - topside, top rump, silverside - that is about one kilo (2 pounds) in weight on top of the garlic. Next, peel the outside skin off a couple of large onions - one per person - and put those into the pan next to the meat. Peel three or four red fleshed sweet potatoes (the red are much sweeter than the white), cut them into chunks and scatter them in the available space in the pan. Drizzle a little more oil over the vegetables, then season meat and vegetables with salt and ground black pepper. Put the pan into the centre of the oven.

My cousin and his wife came over Monday night and very generously gave us a big bag of new potatoes that they had harvested from their own garden that very afternoon. They were a perfect accompaniment for beef - I simply rinsed the remaining soil from them and cut them in half then put them into a pan of salted water.

A perfect roast dinner must always have something green - and for our dinner last night the green of choice was brussel sprouts. I peeled the outer leaves from the fat little bulbs, cut a cross in the base - I don't know why but everyone does it - and put them into a separate pan of salted water.

Baste the meat and turn the vegetables every fifteen minutes. After the meat has been cooking for 50 minutes, turn the potatoes on to boil. After the meat has been in the oven for an hour, take it out, put it onto a warmed plate and cover tightly with aluminium foil. Put the roasted vegetables back into the oven and reduce the temperature to gas mark 2.

When the potatoes reach the boil, turn the heat on under the brussel sprouts and reduce the heat under the potatoes till the water simmers rapidly. Do the same for the sprouts when they reach boiling. Allow to cook for 10-15 minutes till tender.

Slice the beef thinly and put on to warmed plates. Add the roasted vegetables, drain the potatoes and serve, then drain the sprouts and add them to the plates. We didn't have gravy - it makes for a lighter meal though the man did add a slick of Polish horseradish.

Voila! - dinner is served. It' s not quick - the whole thing takes about ninety minutes - but there is very little prep involved, and what there is happens in the first five minutes.