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.

Monday, October 01, 2007

And this week ... I bought

The abiding image of the market this week is GIANT puffballs. Booths were selling them and they are so incredibly huge - like overstuffed cushions - that they were being sold by the slice. Utterly amazing. Autumn is here.

Started at Ginger Pig - turns out Chris has gone up to the farm in Yorkshire (for reprogramming perhaps get him out of his big city ways!) and Karl is on holidays. Even John had the day off so it was a newish crew serving Saturday. Bought a kilo of diced veal for blanquette Monday night - £14.30

Across the other side for a lovely peice of silverside from Lizzie at Wild Beef - roasted Wednesday night to perfection then cold for lunches Thursday - but no eggs this week as we didn't use the last lot yet - £11.80

As we are expecting Jaey and Marie for dinner Monday had to have cheeses - a big piece of Parmesan because we had run out (and some useless information, Waitrose charge £32 a kilo for their Parmesan so don't tell me the market is expensive). A few weeks ago Gianni gave me a piece of hard blue goats cheese to try that was amazing but I didn't buy any at the time as the man is not a fan of goats' cheese so this was my opportunity to buy a hunk and share. I also got a rocchetta because it is one of the worlds great cheeses. This much seemed enough but Gianni said choose one more and it will all be £20 so I got a lovely creamy piece of toma. An utterly perfect collection even though the blue was a sheep not a goat! Bliss.

Bought baby plum tomatoes from Isle of Wight though the season is nearly over - for lunches but probably the last I will buy for the year as they are starting to be bursting from their skins but not in a good way - over ripe and slightly sour - £3.50

Had run out of olive oil for cooking as well so bought a big tin from Vaheed at Borough Olives - it's Greek and endlessly useful as a basic oil - £19.50

Saw some lovely fat purple figs with a tiny tinge of green so bought 4 to have with the cheeses - a bargain £1

Then thought it would be good to have a bit of sweet as well at the end of dinner so bought a bag of chocolates from L'Artisan du Chocolat - £2

Had a little wander round the newer stalls in the main market and was tempted to try a little piece of smoked mackerel at Orkney Rose - it was good and I speak as someone who doesn't like mackerel except sushied so I bought a tub of smoked trout paté as a treat - had it on toast Monday night as a starter. It was nice but a little strong for me - £3.50

Back past Ginger Pig for a slice of paté de campagne - also on toast Monday night and it was perfect - £3.80

Booths - and I resisted the temptation to buy a slice of puffball because I don't know what to do with it but I shall find out this week and then get some. What I did buy was potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions - all roasted with beef Wednesday night, field mushrooms - for blanquette Monday, cucumber - still in the fridge, aubergine - with chick pea curry Thursday night, lettuce, sugarsnaps - lunches, fat bright brussel sprouts - with dinner Monday and Wednesday and carrots - one in the veal and the rest still in the fridge- £9 the lot

Then over to Monmouth where I was sad to learn that the beans they had from New Guinea were substandard and had been sent back - I really liked the coffee from there last time and had been looking forward to the new supply. Bought Guatamalan instead - £8

Neals Yard for yoghurt and milk and bread and pasta - £9.70

Then just needed almond croissant and brownie for a full shop - £3.50

A fairly hefty £109.60 - but Parmesan, oil and coffee all last longer than one week