Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rich Braised Beef

It's all a bit 'things that go with mash' this week. Partly because the weather is iffy and squally so crying out for comfort food and partly too because I have started buying Yukon Gold potatoes from Booths and they are blissfully fantastic when mashed. Peeling them reveals a pale gold flesh that looks like it has been dipped in melted butter. They have a high dry matter content - which means in the eating they are wonderfully stiff when mashed with butter and cream rather than reducing to a creamy cow pat on the plate. The perfect match with meaty juices.

The juices in this instance comes from slow-roasting a joint of beef. I used a corner of silverside but a piece of chuck would work equally well. Larding meat is a long established method of introducing flavour and moisture into a tough piece that it may be cooked for a long time to become tender. This recipe uses the end knob from either Parma or San Daniel ham. It is sufficiently fatty to melt into the surrounding tissue and it adds the richness of the dry cured ham as a subtle layer of flavour when it is carved. The juices from the meat add to the braising liquor to create the sauce.

The recipe comes from Anna del Conte's The Classic Food of Northern Italy which was first published in 1997 and is well worth searching out. I was lucky - I bought my copy in a charity shop for a couple of quid - a great find.

Rich Braised Beef

200g/7oz fatty prosciutto, thickly sliced
1.3 - 1.5kg/3 - 3.5 lb piece of beef - chuck or silverside but not topside as it will stay tough, ask the butcher for it securely tied in a roll to keep its shape during cooking
salt & fresh ground pepper
60g/2oz unsalted butter
2 tbspn olive oil
100g/3 1/2 oz Spanish onion
4 cloves
30g/1oz fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
60g/2oz carrot, cut into chunks
30g/1oz celery leaves
150ml/ 5fl oz meat stock

Cut the prosciutto roughly into large peices. Put the pieces into a food processor and whizz for a few seconds until it is very coarsely chopped. Scoop it out onto a board.

Take the meat and stand it on one of its extremities. With a sharp pointed knife make a deep incision into the meat along the grain. Take a lump of minced prosciutto between your fingers and push it into the cut. Push it down to the bottom of the cut using a round chopstick. make 4 or 5 incisions and then turn the meat over and repeat the operation. If your incisions are deep enough you should be able to lard half the meat from one end and the other half from the other end.
Put a tablespoon of salt onto the board and mix it with plenty of fresh pepper. Roll the meat in the mixture and pat the seasoning hard into the meat. Pat in any bits of leftover prosciutto.

Choose a heavy flameproof casserole with a lid into which the meat will fit snugly. Heat the butter and oil and, when the foam of th butter begins to subside, lower the meat into the pan. Brown it on all sides on a lively heat. Let one side get lovely and brown before you turn it. This operation is very important for the final result: caramelizing the outside of the meat gives the dish the right flavour. To do it properly takes about 10 minutes.

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas2.

Cut the onion in half, or into quarters if its big, and stick i t with the cloves. Throw it into the casserole together with the parsley, carrot and celery. Give the vegetables a good stir and then pour in the stock. Put the lid on and place the casserole in the oven. Cook for 3 - 31/2 hours. Keep an eye on it and turn the meat every 20 miuntes or so.

When the meat is tender, ie when the prongs of a fork can penetrate easily, lift it out onto a plate and loosely cover with foil. Let the juices rest for a couple of minutes and then skim as much fat as you can from the top. If you keep what you skim in a bowl in the fridge it can be used later to fry potatoes or cabbage or as the base for a stew. Use a stick blender to puree the juices till smooth.

Carve the meat into thick slices - about 1cm/ 1/2 inch - any thinner and the meat will crumble. Reheat the sauce and serve with the meat and mash and steamed cabbage.

We had the rest of it cold for lunches with white bean salad and it was very good.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pork Rissoles with Apple and Prune

When I decided to make these lovely little meat balls I felt convinced they were quintessentially English food, partly because of the classic combination of pork and apple but also the inclusion of suet. Braised in the oven to make a rich juice that is perfect with mash and steamed cabbage this is a lovely plate of food to serve up on a winter's night. So I expounded my theory about its utter Britishness to my man - who is thoroughly English born and bred - and he looked puzzled. Never had it, never heard of it, but happy to try it was pretty much the summation of his response. So much for my understanding of the locals!

The recipe comes from Gary Rhodes New British Classics - a book that I dip in and out of as an interesting source of ideas. He, more than any of the current crop of famous chefs except perhaps Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, champions British food in all its variety. He knows its history and wants the world to know how good it can be.

The use of suet is seemingly old fashioned but is really a simple way to add a silky richness - a very good trick to know. Suet is the hard fat from around the kidneys of cattle and sheep. Despite its origin it has no meaty taste at all and is traditionally used in Christmas puddings and mincemeat as well as in pastry and savoury dishes. Supermarkets sell a shredded version. When I asked John at the Ginger Pig if he had any he went into the fridge and took some from around the kidneys from a beef carcass hanging there. It doesn't get fresher than that!

Pork Rissoles with Apple and Prune
1 large onion, finely chopped
Pinch each of freshly ground nutmeg and ground cinnamon
6 stoned prunes, chopped
1 tspn freshly chopped sage
2 small or 1 large bramley apple, peeled cored and chopped into small dice
100g/4oz suet
1 egg, beaten
450g/1lb minced pork
150ml/ 1/4 pint white wine
300ml/ 1/2 pint chicken stock
Arrowroot or cornflour if necessary for a thick sauce
Salt and pepper

Pre heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan. Add the chopped onion and fry for a few minutes, without colour. Season with the nutmeg and cinnamon and add the prunes. Cook for 1 more minute and rmove from the heat. Add the chopped sage and leave to cool. Add the diced apples, chopped suet, egg and minced pork. Mix well, seasoning with salt and pepper.

The mixture must be well mixed to distribute all the flavours. Divide into 8 meatballs and shallow fry them in another knob of butter to seal and make them golden brown all over. Put them into a roasting tray in a single layer.

Pour the white wine into a saucepan and boil until reduced by three-quarters. Add the chicken stock. Pour this mixture over the meatballs and cook in the oven for 45 minutes until tender.

Lift the balls from the tray and keep warm. Strain off the liquor into a small pan and skim the fat. Then either leave it as a light juice or thicken it by mixing 1 tablespoon of cornflour with cold water and whisking it through the juice over a medium heat.

Serve the rissoles with the gravy and a big pile of mashed potatoes and steamed cabbage.

Quintessentially English I think.

Monday, February 26, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Had a couple of meals planned in my mind so I set off to the market with a list. Well, a little scrappy square of paper with lots of random jottings but it was the basis of a plan. First stop, as always, was Ginger Pig. I bought a large piece of beef, a corner of silverside, to try out a new recipe, some minced pork for a different new recipe, some pork chops to simply grill and lots of eggs - £37 - and later I bought a hot sausage roll as a breakfast treat for £3 so my total spend there this week was a nice round £40

Next was a chat to the lovely Marie before buying some dried kalamata's that she particularly recommended - £2

Apples from Chegworth, including a couple of big Bramleys to go with the minced pork - £2.20

Gastronomica was the source of a lovely end piece of parma ham and some aged pecorino - £7

Total Organics for carrots, pine nuts and a tin of chick peas for humus - £4.70

Needed lots of veg again this week - potatoes, cabbage, celery, cucumber, courgettes, lemons, sugar snaps as well as some herbs - parsley, sage and basil - £10.05 in total

Dark roasted colombian coffee beans from Monmouth - £8.50

On the way to find the parma ham and mozzarella stall was the Irish smoked salmon stall - their appearance is intermittent depending as it does on the vagaries of the weather deciding their ferry crossings - so bought salmon from them instead of ham for a sandwich for lunch - £4

Bread and milk and cream from Neals Yard - £9.60

A chocolate brownie for my sweetie £1.50

And a last minute bag of bananas - in part to feed the roses in the garden for the spring - £1

Altogether a stonking £90.55 - but we shall eat well!

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Winter Salad

As the winter slinks towards its conclusion for another year I find myself hankering for crisp raw foods, for the joy of salads. I really enjoy the winter's harvest - bright green bulbs of brussel sprouts do gladden my heart - but by now I want something that offers resistance when I bite. I want fast and simple and a whole other kind of melange. There was a sign once outside Total Organics shop in Marylebone listing the days lunch specials - the highlight for me was Melée of Vegetables. Still makes me laugh.
It is too early yet for lettuce and tomatoes - though available they have neither taste nor a desirable texture. Buying them now has the frisson of succumbing to temptation but the reward is disappointment in the eating and a chastening sense of foolishness for expecting any other outcome. Once bitten ...

The best way to sate my salad need is to use winter vegetables instead - big fat bottomed bulbs of fennel and long crisp pale sticks of celery chopped into generous pieces with jewelled colour and sweetness coming from a scattering of carrot. The flavours are big and well defined but they work in harmony and the sensation of a mouthful of crunchy bits exploding between your teeth is just what is needed to brighten a cold day. Dressed with a spiced oil this really is quite sublime.

A Winter Salad

1 large fennel bulb, thickly sliced
3 celery stalks, choppped into 1 inch lengths
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
3tbspns chilli spiced oil
1 tbspn lemon juice
salt and pepper

Put all the vegetables in a bowl, add the oil, juice and seasonings and toss together. Leave for half an hour or so for the flavours to mingle.

I use an oil I make myself that is infused with orange and chilli and garlic but there are many interesting oils widely available so simply use one that appeals.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Conchiglie with Ricotta and Rocket

This is the prettiest dish as well as tasting great. The fat creamy conchiglie shells are coated with the pale green flecked sauce a little like pesto but the taste is creamy from the cheese and prickly spicy from the chilli and rocket. Shaped to resemble conch shells conghiglie hold the sauce in the hollow and catch extra in the grooves down the outside. They are quite elegant in appearance and work very well in pasta salads. This dish works very well hot or cold. The recipe is from the River Cafe Pocket Book of Pasta - a book that is becoming a serious favourite.

Conchiglie with Rocket and Ricotta

350g Conchiglie
200g ricotta, lightly beaten with a fork
500g rocket, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed
3 tbs basil leaves, torn
3 fresh red chillis deseeded and chopped fine
150g Parmesan, freshly grated
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a small heavy based pan. Add the garlic and fry until it begins to colour. Add the basil and half the rocket. Cover, reduce the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes to just wilt the leaves. Off the heat pulse chop this mixture with a hand blender. Add half of the remaining rocket, the chillies, seasoning and 2 tbs olive oil. Blend briefly to combine.

Cook the conchiglie in boiling salted water till al dente, ladle out a little of the pasta water and keep to one side, then drain the pasta. Add the rocket mixture to the pasta then lightly stir in the ricotta and the remaining uncooked rocket. If the sauce is too stiff add the reserved water till you get the desired consistency.

Serve with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spiced Roast Chicken and Onions

I fancied something a little spicier this week for our Sunday roast that becomes lunch for the beginning of the week. I have been meaning to try this recipe for a while - I like the combination of yoghurt and spices as a marinade and I love onions. They are such a cheap ingredient and are probably the most versatile thing in the kitchen. Like garlic, I use them practically daily.

Onions have been around since forever and were known to be cultivated by the Egyptians around 3000BC. They were often buried with the dead as they believed that their pungent smell would bring breath back to the corpse. It's easy to see where that belief came from!

Sulfenic acids in the onions break down to form a gas that is released into the air when they are peeled or chopped. The gas touches your eyes, reacts with the moisture to create sulfuric acid, and you cry to stop the irritation. Many theories have been proposed to make chopping onions a less tearful process but they are all such a faff - only cutting them under running water or holding a piece of bread in your mouth to absorb the gas - that I can't be bothered. In the end it's not painful and the tears last only as long as the slicing and dicing. A small price to pay for the flavour they add.

This comes from Spice, a quite brilliant book by Australian chef Christine Manfield, given to me by my sister in law a while ago, and much used since.

Spicy Roast Chicken with Fried Onions

1 x 2kg free range chicken - have the butcher spatchcock it for you
75g ghee
3 brown onions, finely sliced
1 tbspn finely sliced ginger

3 large dried red chilies
1 tbspn ground turmeric
1 tspn ground ginger
1 tspn garam masala
1 tspn salt
2 tspns minced garlic
75ml plain ( I use sheep milk) yoghurt

To make the marinade, dry roast chillies over gentle heat till fragrant. Cool then grind to a fine powder and mix with the remaining marinade ingredients. If it's not done already, spatchcock the chicken by cutting out the backbone with a very sharp knife, turn the bird over and flatten it. Coat it liberally with marinade, cover and leave for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 200C. Melt ghee in a baking tray, add the onion and ginger and fry for a minute or two to soften. Add chicken with its marinade and bake, skin side up for 35-40 minutes, turning the bird every 10 minutes and stirring the onions, until chicken and onions have coloured and meat is cooked. Test the thigh with a skewer to check the juices run clear.

Remove chicken onto a plate and cover for10 minutes. Fry onions further over a high heat for a few more minutes till they are dark and sweet. Chop the chicken into serving pieces and serve with the onions over streamed basmati rice and a side salad of cucumber and yoghurt with a little chopped coriander.

It was very good cold for lunch the next few days.

Monday, February 19, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Big week for lots of vegetables this week but we started at Wyndhams where they spatchcocked a chicken for me and I also bought 4 carcasses to make a batch of stock for the freezer - they're only 50p each so it is definitely a bargain. Spent £7 in total Spiced roast chicken Sunday night and for lunches Monday, Tuesday Made 4 litres of stock for the freezer

Ginger Pig was next for some minced pork and cumberland sausages for £8.70 and the little bit of suet I needed was free Sausages and roasted vegetable salad Saturday late afternoon before a night at the Young Vic Mince and suet in the freezer

Big lump of Parmesan and a piece of soft bra - because my man is easily amused - from the Italian cheese stall - £10 the pair Parmesan for pasta, bra for snacking

Apples from Chegworth - £1 Lunches

Ricotta from the other Gastronomica stall that also sells meats - £4.60 Conchiglie with rocket and ricotta Tuesday night for supper, Wednesday for lunch

Sweet little carrots from Total Organics - 80p - stock

Booths for a big shop - aubergines, peppers, cucumber, yukon gold potatoes because they are really very special, fennel, fine beans, mushrooms, ginger, coriander, onions, and a couple of fat ripe tomatoes - planning roasted veg and a curry - £9 the lot Roasted vegetable salad Saturday used a lot and vegetable curry Wednesday night and Thursday lunch used a lot more

Couldn't resist a savoy cabbage from Tony 50p Not used, might be alright for the weekend

Or a scotch egg from Ginger Pig(!) - £3 ~Saturday brunch

Neal's Yard had over ordered milk so it was bogoff and I got one free litre of whole milk for porridge on Sunday by buying 1 litre of semi skimmed for the rest of the week, also bought some pasta, a big tub of cream, a large tub of sheeps yogurt and a loaf of ciabatta - £9.60 Bread for Saturday tea, yoghurt for curry and spiced chicken marinade, cream for scrambled eggs Friday night or perhaps a quiche because I haven't had one for years

Then just needed a chocolate brownie for my man and had to have an almond croissant for my morning tea - £3.50

A total of £57.70 for the week. Not bad.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Roasted Vegetable Pasta

This is a fabulous meal to make mid week. After ten minutes preparation the vegetables go into the oven and, apart from stirring them occasionally, there is nothing more to do till it's time to cook the pasta. The vegetables can be almost anything that sweetens with roasting - whatever is already in the fridge or what looks nice on the day. Most combinations of softened vegetables work so each time you make it it produces a different result.

I had an aubergine left over from last week so that was my starting point. I had also bought lots of courgettes on the weekend as well as a trio of peppers. Chopped that lot up as well as a giant tomato from the week before that, being well out of season, even looked like the flesh would be woolly and bland - roasting it could only help and it would add a sweetened moisture to the final mix. I'd also bought a head of fennel with the plan of making winter salad with some chicory but decided to use it too to add a licorice note. The trick of making this work really well is to chop everything to roughly the same size and then use a roasting pan that has very low sides so that the moisture evaporates and the vegetables caramelise rather than steam.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta

2 onions, peeled and cut into 1/8ths
1 aubergine, chopped
3 peppers, cored and deseeded and chopped
1 fennel, trimmed of its fern and chopped
4 courgettes, trimmed and chopped
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled and flattened with the blade of a heavy knife
3 bay leaves
2 or 3 tbspns olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tspn balsamic vinegar
250g/9oz shell pasta
Generous grating of Parmesan

Peel and chop all the vegetables to roughly the same size. Pour half the oil into the base of a large, low sided roasting pan and add the vegatables, mixing to make a meélange. Tuck the cloves of garlic in randomly and the bay leaves. I would normally also use a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme but it was pouring with rain and the only herb I could reach out my back door without getting drenched was the bay so that was all that was used! Splash the rest of the oil over the vegetables and season generously. Roast in a hot oven - gas 6/200C/400F - for about an hour turning the vegetables from time to time.

When the vegetables begin to caramelise cook the pasta as instructed on the packet. Take the roasting pan from the oven and sprinkle the balsamic over the vegetables, mixing it through. This will lift the final dish. Drain the pasta, return it to the pan and mix the roasted vegetables through. Serve in big bowls topped with Parmesan and a hunk of crusty bread on the side to mop up the juices.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lamb Stuffed with Spinach and Mushrooms

Last week's butchery class at the Ginger Pig was a fascinating evening. Chris and Carl, both New Zealanders who trained in their home country, could reasonably be expected to know a thing or two about lamb given that sheep outnumber people twelve to one in the land of the long white cloud. Their skill is always a pleasure to observe. In the space of half an hour Chris had turned the carcass of a whole Swaledale lamb into its constituent parts, leg, steaks, barnsley chops, loin, ribs - very good barbecued - a crown roast neatly trimmed and ready for display in the chiller cabinet, with the best of the trimmings set to one side for dicing and the rest separated out for mincing or sausages. He explained each of the cuts as he demonstrated them and told of the way each piece would commonly be cooked and what sort of price each piece would fetch.

They knew the age of the animal and where it was raised on the Ginger Pig farm in Yorkshire. It was a big animal - about 35kg - with fine lean meat from a life well lived outdoors. The Ginger Pig could never be thought of as cheap but what I buy from them is the very best quality meat that comes from animals that have been well treated during their life, properly fed and with space to roam. Tim, the owner of the whole enterprise, used to come to Borough every week. He told me once that he never sells live animals because he believes he has a duty of care to them to be sure they are well treated for their entire lifespan, including being humanely slaughtered. When the meat is raised with such care it can only inspire you to cook it as well as is possible.

After this demonstration we were each given a shoulder of lamb and, over the next hour, tought step by step how to bone it, trim it and roll it into an oven ready roast. So now I had a perfect piece of meat that I had invested more into than usual and I needed something special to do with it to celebrate. We decided to share it with the man's parents at dinner on Saturday night.

This recipe comes from Gordon Ramsay's Secrets. He is a good source of inspiration in the kitchen as he too starts from a point of wanting food to be as good as it can be. The final meal was magnificent.

Lamb Stuffed with Spinach and Mushrooms

1 boned shoulder of lamb
2 tbsp double cream
250g mushrooms, wild or cultivated
70g butter
1 shallot or ½ onion, finely chopped
1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
250g baby leaf spinach
1 tbspn tarragon, chopped
300ml well flavoured reduced lamb stock
150ml red wine
rosemary sprigs
salt and pepper

Trim away 150g flesh. Put through a food processor and whizz to a puree. Add the cream, ½ tspn salt and some pepper and blend briefly until smooth. Turn into a bwol, cover and refrigerate, with the boned joint.

Chop the mushrooms very very finely into tiny little dice. Heat the butter in a frying pan and saute the shallot or onion and garlic for about 3 minutes till softened. Add the mushrooms and fry, stirring, over a high heat until softened and browned, about 7 minutes. Season well, and allow to cool.

Blanch the spinach in boiling water for 1 minute then drain and plunge into a bowl of iced water to refresh. Drain thoroughly, squeeze dry, then chop finely and mix with the mushrooms and tarragon. The mixture should be quite dry. Add the spinach and mushrooms to the lamb puree, mix well and check the seasoning.

Lay the lamb flat on a work surface and spread the stuffing evenly over the inside, then rollup firmly and tie at intervals with kitchen string. Roll the neat stuffed joint tightly in cling film and refrigerate for a couple of hours to help set the shape.

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Weigh the meat and calculate the cooking time. Allow 50 minutes per kilo for medium rare, 55 for medium. Add 12 minutes for each additional 250g. Place the joint in a raosting pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning. Lay a butter paper on top to prevent over-browning. Roast the lamb for the calculated time – 1 ½ - 2 hours – basting every 30 minutes.

Transfer the meat to a platter and rest in a warm place for 15 minutes or so. Strain the juices into a small saucepan, add the stock, wine and rosemary and bubble down for a few minutes to reduce down, then strain into a jug.

Carve the meat into thick slices, tipping any thick juices that seep out into the jug. Serve the meat with gravy and veg.

And this week ... I bought

After our butchery class last week we had plenty of lamb - so that was definitely the plan for Saturday night supper with the man's parents. Our total shop at Ginger Pig was, therefore, a minimal eggs and some smoked streaky bacon - £4.20 - the least I have spent there in quite some time though we did buy a scotch egg at the cooked food counter so total spend went up to £7.20 Half the streaky bacon went into a pot of bacon, bean and barley soup, half went into the freezer, the scotch egg was picnic lunch in the car on the way to Suffolk, the eggs will be good this week

Bought a string of spicy cooking chorizo from Brindisa - no particular plan but always useful and they freeze well - £4.60 Nothing yet

Raining heavily by now so we went very quickly round the back of the market pausing only to buy apples and a bottle of apple and rhubarb juice from Chegworth Farm - £4.80 Lunches

Back under shelter and it was quiet at Borough Olives so we got to have a proper chat with Marie before buying olives and feta for evening snacks - £4.20 - Snacks with drinks before dinner Saturday night

Booths was quiet - easy to get potatoes - finally got some Yukon Gold and we shall see if they really are superior, also mushrooms, spinach, celery, parsley, courgettes - but no tarragon setting me into a bit of a panic as I needed some to stuff the lamb - as well as fennel and endive for a winter salad - £5.80 - Mushroom and spinach stuffed the lamb, celery and parsley and potatoes into the soup, courgettes and fennel made for roasted vegetables with pasta, then had to buy more fennel to make a salad with endive and celery to go with a most decadent Valentines dinner of wild beef (from the freezer) burgers with a thin stuffing of foie gras cooked medium rare in a ridged grill pan and had with a fine bottle of Pauillac. It is love.

Went to Turnips for tarragon without success

Tried Tony for tarragon - also no joy - but I did get 3 peppers for £1 - for roasted veg

Offered a sample of soft english cheese at the entrance to Neals Yard with the promise that it would cheer me up even if it couldn't warm me up the young man was right - it was lovely - so I bought a round as well as bread, milk and cream - £12.60 - cream to go into the lamb stuffing and the cheese for a delightful snack and a sandwich lunch on Thursday

About to admit defeat and go home I decided to try one more time for tarragon at the Bio stall near the entrance of the market and - joy of joys - she had some Half a bag for £1 - and so my stuffing was complete and the rest went into white bean salad for lunches with cold lamb

A quiet week food wise - £41.20

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Poached Pears

A description of pear shaped tends to be derogatory and yet, unlike their cousin the apple, pears are delicate things, sweet and juicy when ripe, firm without being crisp and quite lovely in your mouth. Not at all deserving of such snobbish dismissal. They have a short window of ripeness - only a few days. You can tell they are perfect when they have a gentle whiff of perfume and give slightly to pressure around the stem. They ripen from the core outwards so if you wait till they soften around the middle you will have waited too long and they will be on the way to fermentation and the making of perry.

Available most of the year they are good to eat fresh, alone or with cheeses, particularly blue cheeses I find. Some varieties, like the Comice and the Anjou lend themselves very well to cooking - they poach beautifully to make great desserts or thinly sliced atop buttery pastry for a different take on tarte tatin. This time of year they are great poached with spices to bring a little exotic warmth to the end of a wet winter day.

This recipe is from the utterly brilliant Heston Blumenthal - an englishman striving to have the world eat well.

1 bottle good-quality red wine
200ml crème de cassis or blackcurrant syrup
200g sugar (or 300g if not using crème de cassis)
1 cinnamon stick
6 cloves1 star anise
20g ginger root, peeled
25g liquorice root
Zest of 1 orange, peeled in one piece (using a sharp peeler)
Zest of 1 lemon, peeled in one piece
8-10 ripe, unblemished pears

Bring the wine to the boil in a casserole big enough to hold the pears and boil for 10 minutes to drive off the acidity. Remove from the heat, then add all the other ingredients, except the pears.

Prepare the pears. Peel them, leaving the stem intact. If you are keeping them whole, remove the core so that they cook evenly all the way through. To core them, insert the tip of a peeler into the base of the pear just on the edge of the core, push into the fruit and turn the peeler around the core, cutting it out. If halving the pears, do so lengthways. Neatly cut out the root and core.

The liquid will have cooled down a little by now. Place the prepared pears side by side in the pan and top with a disc of greaseproof paper cut to the same size as the pan. Pierce a few holes in the paper and press it down slightly so that some of the poaching liquid comes through the holes: this will keep the pears submerged during cooking. If the liquid does not cover the pears, add a little water until it does.

Place the casserole back on the heat and bring to a simmer. As soon as this happens, turn down the heat and cook at a gentle simmer — just enough to form the odd bubble on the surface of the water — for 30 minutes, or until the pears are done. Test by inserting a small pointed knife into the flesh. If it goes in with little resistance, they are ready.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool. When cold, carefully transfer the fruit to a sealable container. If you have added extra water, reduce the liquid to the required consistency and taste. If it is still too thin, thicken with a little cornflour. Reserve the zest and spices for decoration, if required. Pour the liquid over the pears in their container and store in the fridge for at least a day. The pears will keep for a week in the poaching liquid.

Serve hot or cold with a big dollop of thick cream.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Roast Pork

Though it is reasonably simple to roast meat - or indeed vegetables - knowing other people's methoods is always interesting. We had a particularly fine piece of pork on Sunday - boned, rolled shoulder that developed a fine crackling skin around a good ridge of sweet creamy fat and wonderfully flavoured meat.

For optimum results make sure the skin is scored for the whole length of the piece. If it is not already done ask the butcher - their knives will likely be much sharper than any in the kitchen. If you forget, use a stanley knife to cut all the way through the skin into the fat but not as deep as the flesh. A good trick with pork is to unpack it when you get it home from the butcher, wash it under a cold tap, pat it dry then put it onto a plate loosely covered with greaseproof paper. Leave it in the bottom of the fridge for a day or so until you plan to cook it.

When you are ready, pre heat the oven as hot as it will go while you prepare the meat. Rinse any blood off the bottom of the joint, being careful not to moisten the rind, then pat dry. In the base of a good sized heavy roasting pan drizzle a little olive oil and strew around some slices of fresh ginger, a couple of flattened cloves of garlic and one or two chillies with a nick in the skin but not chopped (unless you are wanting really hot and spicy). Place the meat on top of the aromatics and then sprinkle the top generously with salt. Rub it well into the skin. Put the pan into the hot oven and roast for 20 minutes. Without opening the door, reduce the heat to gas mark 5 / moderate/350F and cook for another 20 minutes then take out and baste the meat. When it comes out of the oven it should already be burnished with golden crackling and it will crackle more as it continues to cook.

Continue cooking and basting till the meat is ready - 20 minutes per pound plus twenty minutes is always a good rule of thumb - that translates to about 50 minutes per kilo. Remove it from the oven, put the meat onto a warmed plate, and cover tightly with two layers of foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes at least before carving.

With this roast I had no gravy, the man had Polish horseradish and we both had a satisfying serving of roasted winter vegetables to make for a great lunch.

Equally nice cold on Monday.

Monday, February 05, 2007

And this week ... I bought

My man braved Borough Market on his own again this week, armed with a list I made for him Friday night. By the time I got home Saturday evening he had put all his purchases away, eaten the scotch egg and was kicked back watching England win at rugby - a rare treat.

We had thick grilled rump sandwiches Saturday night with onion gravy and beetroot salad. He's very good at being in charge of supper sometimes.

Sunday started with an experiment - the man had bought flaked linseed mixed with oats to try a healthy alternative to plain porridge so I cooked it up Sunday morning in the same way I would make ordinary porridge and - it was horrible. It tasted like a made up version of porridge by someone who had had it described to them but had never actually eaten it. Funny texture, odd flavour. Oh well. Don't try, don't know. Lunch was far more successful - roast pork with winter vegetables roasted with chilli and ginger and garlic. Lovely - and good cold for lunches for a few days.

Monday was the quick and fabulous tagliatelle carbonara after a private view for a photographic exhibition at London College of Printing
Tuesday was another pasta night - made penne with aubergine and mozzarella - very good cold next day for lunch It hadn't been my plan to have two lots of pasta - or indeed either of these two dishes at all this week but the man had bought parma ham and mozzarella - as noted on the list - as I thought we might need a light supper on Sunday after Transatlantic Soul at the Barbican but no - we came in late and headed to bed so I wanted to use them while fresh - made the penne with basil - also on the list - not parsley - not on the list and still it was perfect
Wednesday we had a most fascinating evening at the Ginger Pig shop in Marylebone after closing being taught by two of the butchers from Borough, Chris and Carl, how to bone and roll a shoulder of lamb. It's not that I intend to start doing it myself but it's interesting to know how. Working with such sharp knives gave me some confidence too. After the class these two fine young men served up slow roasted shoulder of lamb - on the bone - braised with carrots and potatoes. A most splendid night out.
Thursday the snow came down but still I went to French class but was glad to go home to a hot sausage sandwich with the last of the beetroot salad for extra juice
Friday today and we shall have zucchini fritata and salad to use up the courgettes - on the list - that I had intended to have early in the week with pasta and basil
So in the end what we didn't have was burgers - but the mince is in the freezer - and black eyed beans with aubergine curry but the beans are dried so will last and the aubergine went into the pasta - and what didn't get used and what I have no plan for is a bunch of coriander - so not bad in fact

Friday, February 02, 2007

Peppers Stir fried with Black Beans

This is a very simple dish that is quick to make, cheap and a perfect balance of flavours and textures. The green peppers have a slightly sourish unripe note, red pepper is sweeter and the salt from the black beans cuts through the sweetness and gives a rich, more balanced flavour. The peppers, once cooked, still retain a little bit of crunch but it is wrapped inside the silky flesh. They go well with most stir fries or plain boiled rice and are really lovely cold the next day. No prizes for guessing the original recipe came from Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

Peppers and Black Bean Stir-fry

1 red, 1 green, 1 yellow pepper

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 tbspn black fermented beans, rinsed

1/2 tspn clear rice vinegar


2 tbspn stock or water

1 tspn sesame oil

1 tbspn ground nut oil

Cut the peppers in half, discard the seeds and stems and cut into large squares. Heat the oil in a wok over a medium heat. Add the peppers and stir fry for 5-6 minutes, until they are tender and their skins puckered and a little golden. Remove the peppers with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Return the wok to a high flame. Add the garlic and black beans and stir fry till fragrant. Return the peppers to the wok and season with the vinegar and salt to taste. When everything is sizzling and delicious, stir in the stock or water, and then, off the heat, the sesame oil.

Serve with white rice and another dish, in this case home cooked pork.