Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Padrón Peppers

Had lunch with my brother and the man a few weeks ago at the new Brindisa in Soho and the man, being an adventurous sort, ordered a plate of padrón peppers as one of the starter nibbles to go with a chilled glass of fino. I was expecting them to be roasted red piquillo but what turned up was a plate of little sweet chilli size green things, flecked with gold from a hot pan and dusted with flakes of salt. And they were amazing.

Horned shaped and about the size of a habanero pepper they are an heirloom pepper of Galicia in Spain and are very relished there as a tapas plate. Intending to go the tapas route for xmas eve supper I sought them out. Brindisa in Exmouth Market had sold out and - worse - were not expecting any till the New Year. I rushed back to the office and called Brindisa at Borough where a nice woman told me she had four packs left. She kindly put one of them aside for me and so I sent the man to collect them that very afternoon.

They were yummy - like a slightly sour sweet pepper, juicy and well matched with the salt. One in every ten peppers will be hot - not sure why - but it makes for a fun kind of culinary roulette. That first time in the restaurant we had nearly finished that shiny pile before I bit into one that was spectacularly hot. Wah! So far we've eaten about 20 of the xmas ones without incident. I'm thinking that means at least three of the last 10 are bound to be scorchers!

If you can find some do try this quick and easy treat - with a lightly chilled fino should you be so lucky.

Padrón Peppers

A dozen or so fresh padrón peppers
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt crystals

Wash the peppers and dry them on kitchen paper but otherwise leave them whole, stems attached.

In a heavy pan heat the oil over a medium heat - too hot and the flesh of the peppers will scorch. Add the peppers in a single layer and cook for a couple of minutes till very lightly blistered on one side then turn them over and do the other side.

Scoop them out onto a serving plate and sprinkle with salt.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Triple Cooked Chips

I know Heston Blumenthal thought of it first - but there is no harm in homage. Over xmas we had a couple of tapas style meals as I am currently enamoured of all things Brindisa. I bought some padrón peppers and fabulous chorizo and we had olives and cheeses and some fairly spectacular iberico ham for xmas eve. Boxing Day we had the same kind of thing but no ham. What we did have was a small bowl of potatoes from the chrissy feast which I had first cooked in boiling salted water and then, after fluffing them against the edge of the colander I roasted them in duck fat. They were wonderful.

As I made ready the platter for the following evening my eye caught the leftovers in the fridge. I had just fried off the thick sliced chorizo and I had a lovely slick of thick red oil in the bottom of a pan. Quick as a flash I sliced my potatoes into slightly smaller pieces and then gently fried them till they were hot and red and crisp. So amazing. Should you ever have that particular set of coincidences go for it!

Monday, December 22, 2008


When I left home to be a student - and ostensibly a grown up - I lived in Sydney, sharing a house with some fellow students who, being a bit older than me, seemed decidedly more knowledgeable and sophisticated than the gauche thing I was. They certainly liked good food and knew lots of restaurants across a whole spectrum. One night a carload of us went to eat at their latest discovery, a place on George Street called The Malaya that had a menu full of food of which I'd never heard, let alone tasted. Indeed at that point I didn't even know I liked spicy food - garlic I loved but chilli was entirely unexplored territory. Lacking brazen courage I plumped for beef rendang - in part because it was beef, in part because it came with rice but mostly because it said on the menu it was mild. I was expecting stew and what I got was extraordinarily tender hunks of beef coated with a dry spiced coconut sauce clinging to the meat. I was seduced. I love a good rendang to this day.

But the beef/rice combo wasn't entirely beyond the bounds of my experience. Most of my fellow diners ordered laksa and were presented with a dish that really was outside my envelope. Huge bowls filled with skinny noodles floating in a pale broth with lots of bits poking through - bean sprouts and king prawns and slices of something. All of it topped with a dollop of terracotta paste that spread in delicate tendrils across the surface as they ate. It looked amazing. I was jealous.

Next time it would be mine.

If laksa is a thing of beauty the first time you see it, it is an unutterable joy when you first taste it. Hot, sweet, sour, fishy, light, dense, ever so slightly grainy and full of slippy splashy noodles. Wow. The Malaya was close to our campus and so I began to frequent it whenever anyone suggested lunch. I tried a lot of the other things on the menu but mostly I had the laksa - king prawn when I was flush, chicken when I wasn't.

My father worked in the city commuting from the coast, and we would often meet for lunch usually at the canteen in his office. I liked to see him and he liked to know I had eaten well at least once that week. Soon as I could I suggested we go to the Malaya. He turned up and perused the menu and I bubbled over about the delights of laksa. I was so excited that I finally had something amazing I could share with him, to introduce him to a new delight. But no - he would not be led. When he ordered the sambal I told him it was VERY hot, but he assured me he ate hot food. Not that hot, I thought. Our steaming bowls arrived and he took a big spoonful of his prawns and the juice they came in that was redder than they were and oooh...! His face registered a kind of shocked surprise as he gulped his glass of wine. 'Hot'. To give him his due he did manage to eat most of that bowl of fire but he also aplogised for drinking most of the wine.

Next time we went he ordered the laksa.

I have eaten hundreds more since my student days, forging some lasting friendships with them along the way. When I first knew Vicki I suggested the Malaya one night for dinner when we were working late. When she professed ignorance of such a place I promised her an amazing treat. She habitually looked glamorous in a big white shirt and that day was no exception. By the end of dinner it was covered in a fine spray of chilli red spots. Even that couldn't wipe the delighted grin from her face after eating her first laksa. We have had countless bowls since - usually making a fair amount of mess because they are impossible to eat neatly. My first night in London, fighting off jet lag and drinking in the excitement of Soho we eventually went for laksa. Having arrived a few months ahead of me she had been on a mission to find a source. All things were possible in this city. I felt truly welcomed.

Decidedly under the weather last Friday and miserable with flu I really really really wanted laksa. I wanted that spicy liquid snaking down my throat, warming me through and clearing my head. I wanted the wrapped up and cared for sensation you get from good laksa - to taste the full spectrum of flavour, rich and complex, to be lulled to sleep with its familiarity. But even if I had been up to the bus ride to Soho, the last Friday before xmas is not the time for a sick person to be seeking comfort.

I dragged myself as far as Loon Moon on Electric Avenue in Brixton and stocked up on noodles and beansprouts and a couple of tins of coconut milk. I defrosted some of the chicken stock I made last weekend and I set about making my own. By the end it was amazing - as close as I've ever come to making the real thing. This is what I did.

8-9 large dried red chillies
2 tablespoons dried prawns or 2 teaspoons dried shrimp paste - from Asian foodstores
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
6 macadamia or brazil nuts, roughly chopped
2 stems lemon grass, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 litre chicken stock
2 cans coconut milk
250g pack fresh egg noodles
100g fresh bean sprouts, rinsed and the straggly bits pinched off
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
50g sugarsnap peas, sliced
small bunch coriander, chopped

Break off the stems of the dry chilies and then soak them with the dried prawns in hot water for about 15 minutes. Put the chillies, prawns, onions, ginger, nuts, garlic and lemon grass with a littel bit of the soaking water into the container of a blender or in a bowl and use a stick blender to make a rough paste.
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the paste, stirring occasionally, till it is darkly golden and smells fragrant. This takes about 20 minutes and the volume of the paste will decrease as it cooks.

Add the turmeric and coriander and stir fry for another minute. Add the stock, stir to mix well while it comes to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about half an hour.

Add the coconut milk and the shredded chicken and warm through. Check the seasoning.

Meanwhile, put the egg noodles in a colander and rinse with hot water till they separate.

Put a generous pile of noodles into deep bowls and cover with the laksa soup. Top each bowl with beansprouts and sugarsnaps and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Serve a chilli sauce like sambal ulek on the side for those who want more spice.

Guaranteed effective in the treatment of flu, colds and general cheerlessness. Perfect for now.

Garlic Mushrooms

Some things are so easy and so perfect. Able & Cole very kindly gave me a box of their organic produce to sample and the first thing that I absolutely had to eat was a bag of lovely mushrooms. I eat them many ways but the desire that sprang unbidden was mushroom sauce atop a steak. Not of the Diane variety with its creamy wiles - I wanted simpler even than that to test my lovely fungus.

I just peeled a fat clove of garlic and chopped it finely, warmed a generous nob of butter wit half a tablespoon of olive oil then fried my thinly sliced beauties till they gave up their juices and simmered prettily in the pan. The room filled with that lovely smell. A good grinding of black pepper and perfection was reached.

To serve? Good thick rump steak grilled to bloody rare under a small ridge of crisp fat. Then nothing more than a crisp green salad on the side dressed with a little spiced oil.
Mushrooms cooked like this are also brilliant tossed with pasta shells, over plain rice or served with grilled chicken.

The very essence of Saturday special.

Happy Xmas!

And a yummy year ahead.

The odd thing about always shopping at Borough Market is knowing that, on the Saturday before xmas and the last full work day before xmas, it is no place for the market regular. Too busy, too manic, too fraught. With the strong possibility that next year will be bad the traders are hoping for a busy time, but even they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.

So this year I had no intention of going to the market on Saturday. Instead, on Thursday I went to Brindisa in Exmouth Market for chorizo and padrone peppers for xmas eve. Saturday - after sleeping in till 10 o'clock! - we went down to Lower Marsh to the new, almost empty, Ginger Pig and bought some steak for dinner and some pork mince for stuffing our xmas chicken which we will collect on xmas eve from Borough. From the other traders in Lower Marsh I got some milk and fresh rocket. Later that afternoon we were on the South Bank where there was a slow food market - and joy oh joy both Neals Yard and Gastronomica had stalls, so we bought our stilton and a lovely chunk of pecorino.

Able & Cole, the vegetable delivery company, very kindly offered food bloggers a free organic box last week so most of my veg shopping is done. It was full of really beautiful produce, including lots of lovely clementines for the xmas feast. I heartily recommend them if you have no access to fresh produce - they deliver to your door. My only real lack was brussel sprouts, but we shall find some of them no doubt.

We did venture briefly to the market on Sunday - it was pretty busy, largely with tourists though plenty were buying at least one special thing. The traders looked almost haunted - then you get a sudden smile when they realise you are someone they know. Mostly they will sleep when this is done. I bought coffee, and a piece of venison fillet vacuum packed, bread, marcona almonds, more milk and yoghurt, and a small side of smoked salmon from Furness as the Irish salmon man has not been round for weeks. Had a nice chat at the Taste of Turkey stall and sampled a new dried olive they are planning to sell in the summer that was utterly sublime - the flesh melts onto your tongue and is gone in a flash. Seriously good.

The last bits will be gathered Wednesday morning - and then let feasting begin!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

WinterFruit Compote

This compote seems like a wonderfully wintery bowl full to me. Dried fuits, which I am often more inclined to eat than fresh particularly in winter, are spiced, scented and soaked in fresh juice to be served up after a suitable time marinating with a sharpish dairy accompaniment - yoghurt at breakfast is my preferred treat or with creme fraiche for a sublime dessert. The fresh juice replenishes any vitamin C that has been lost in the drying process while the fruit retains the more concentrated levels of iron and other minerals.

Compotes are apparently a speciality of Russia and Eastern Europe, a region where good desserts may be rare, distinguished by being almost invariably wholesome and palatable. This version is much better than that, coming as it does from Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. Bottled in sterilised jars it would make a lovely gift to someone you love at Christmas. It has the added bonus of being very quick to make and very beautiful to look at when it's done.

Winter Fruit Compote

65g golden raisins
30g currants
30g dried cherries
90g dried apricots, diced
90g dried apples, diced
400ml fresh orange juice
3 strips orange zest
40g brown sugar
2.5cm piece of vanilla pod
1 star anise

In a medium-size saucepan, combine the fruit, orange juice, zest and sugar. Split the vanilla pod in half lengthwise. Use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the black seeds from the inside of the pod directly into the saucepan; then add the pod, along with the star anise.

Cook over medium heat until the dried fruits have plumped and the juice has slightly thickened (about three to five minutes).

Let cool slightly, then discard the vanilla pod, orange zest and star anise.

The only thing with the star anise is to use a whole one. Not thinking, I added a few little bits of broken ones into my pan and then, once that luscious dark pool was done, couldn't remember how many bits I was trying to fish out...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Basil Oil

What with it being almost Christmas and the credit crunch doing it's thing I thought I'd add a couple of seasonal treats to the blog. I have previously made some basil oil for myself because I really love the stuff. It is such a superbly flavoured herb but sadly doesn't last long once picked, so preserving it this way is fabulous. And frugal.

I was talking to a few others recently, amongst them Lizzie from Hollowlegs, about this thing about xmas - the endless pressure to be giving gifts to all and sundry feels unceasing from about September but the reality is it's unlikely most adults need or even want anything that they haven't already bought or planned to buy for themselves. It's why most people go out to earn a wage. So you are most likely to both give and receive something for the sake of it. But if you give consumables all that will be left is the bottle and the pleasant sensation of being replete.

A few weeks ago I had a big bunch of basil left from another dish, so decided I'd make some oil with it rather than have it go to waste. I put the picked leaves into my pan, added two 500ml bottles of olive oil, infused it gently then let it cool. I stuffed the leaves through the skinny neck of each bottle then filled them with oil and sealed the tops. Obviously the outside of the bottles were still a little oily. Picked one up to clean it, had it slip then in what seemed like slow motion I watched it fall to the floor and smash. Oil, leaves, glass for miles - all over the floor, up the walls, down the cupboards, everywhere. If you've never had to clean up that much olive oil you are very lucky. It's a nightmare, it seems to multiply every time you peep out from behind your hands. Took me an hour or more. The only good thing was still having one bottle left. Which I cleaned very very carefully before I put it away.

Basil Oil

2 x 500ml olive oil in glass bottles
1 large bunch basil, leaves picked from the stems
2 dried red chillies
Put the leaves and chillies into a large pan and add the olive oil. Very very gently bring it to a point where there are just bubbles forming. Keep it at that temperature for about ten minutes to infuse. Turn off the heat, cover and allow the oil to return to room temperature.

If you're feeling brave gently push the leaves into the empty bottles after discarding the chillies. There will be oil that runs down the outside of the bottle making them slick. Then with a funnel pour the infused oil into the bottles and seal.

Make a label and decorate with a little festive ribbon.

And that's it - a lovely present that is a joy to receive as well as to give. It is great on hot pasta with nothing more than a sprinkle of Parmesan, it makes a fabuolous salad dressing, particularly for peppers and you can roast tomatoes and garlic in it to make a wonderful dish eaten hot or cold. Or indeed to put into sterilised jars and given as presents.

If you're lucky enough to have a basil plant in the summer you can make more of this lovely oil before the plant dies off in the autumn.

Friday, December 12, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

The next week being pre xmas is busy even for us. The world has gone mad. So for the weekend I'm planning some new dishes from my new Fuchsia Dunlop cookbook as a Saturday night special. Sunday roast perhaps pork again as the pork last week was particularly fine. Monday I am out with the ladies from my former french class, so the man will fend for himself. Tuesday we are singing carols with Food Chain and Jaey and Marie in Soho and will eat at the new Brindisa after. Wednesday is the xmas party for the man's office. Thursday perhaps some lentils. Friday I think sausage sandwiches.

Then Saturday when we got up it was pouring with rain, just massively depressingly wet and windy. So decided to use some daube and some cheese sauce from the freezer to make a lasagne for Saturday supper then the man can have leftovers Monday when I'm out.

Felt thoroughly bedraggled by the time I got to the market - the only good thing about the rain being the lack of queues. At Ginger Pig I ordered a chicken for xmas and bought another piece of pork shoulder same as last week because it really was so good, and half a kilo of braising steak as well as a big bag of pork bones - £17.30

Then to Booths for potatoes, sweet potatoes, sprouts, clementines, a huge bunch of basil and a big butternut whilst running in and out of the rain, the occasional drip down the back of my neck for £8.20

Eggs - look at the difference between the dark gold yolks of Wild Beef eggs and the last of a free range pack I bought locally - and a couple of packs of coarse mince from Wild Beef plus a packet of porridge oats to get us through to the New Year - £11.70

Then to the Taste of Turkey olive stand where we had a lovely chat about the finer points of dried olives which I adore and after sampling a few bought a tub of particularly fine black ones and a bar of olive oil soap for the man - £6.60

Walking back into the main hall there was a choir singing carols and they were beautiful

Then went to Neals Yard for milk and bread - £5.60

And a cottage loaf from Flour Power - £1

Tried for chicken carcasses at Wyndhams but, like Ginger Pig, they had none. Something of a disaster as we have fully run out of stock

So I spent £50.40

There is a small branch of Ginger Pig just opened in Lower Marsh where there is also a café so I was hoping for what could possibly be the best fry up in London only to find the café was not yet operational - too sad - but they did have chicken carcasses and wings at the Ginger Pig - so all was not lost

And we had a pretty fab fry up at the Chunnel Bar across the road so the morning could reasonably be judged a success!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pasta with Purple Broccoli, Olives and Pine Nuts

For years and years I thought broccoli was the stuff with the tight green heads of teeeny tiny flowery bits atop muscular green stalks. I loved it in stirfries and was less certain about it steamed for a side dish as it takes only a nanosecond to go from cooked to disintegrated grainy puddle. One day my friend Andrea cooked me a fabulous dinner from Moosewood Cookbook and she told me she wanted another of their books called The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I sought it out and discovered that it really did include a recipe that involved standing broccoli in some kind of base and cooking it to be an enchanted forest. Worked for me - it's such a great way to play with your food.
Then a couple of years ago along came a new broccoli, strange and different. A wild and woolly thing with small purple heads on long stalks with grey green leaves. More scary fairy forest. I was uncertain about it for a while, but saw it through the winter at the market and read about it in occasional recipes. Before I bought some I wasn't sure I needed another kind of broccoli. More fool me. For the scruffy cousin of the tight green variety is a lovely thing, delicate and slightly nutty. Definitely good to eat.

This recipe, from the endlessly used River Cafe Pasta Book, uses the fact that the heads disintegrate to make a textured sauce that is enriched with olives and pine nuts and tiny spikes of chilli and given depth with freshly ground fennel. A real treat.

Pasta with Broccoli & Olives

350g dried small pasta shells
1kg purple sprouting broccoli
100g black olives, stoned
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar
3 tablespoons roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
60g pine nuts
100g pecorino, freshly grated
Olive oil

Cut the larger broccoli heads into smaller pieces then cook in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain, reserving 100ml of the cooking water, now nicely stained purple.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a thick bottomed pan and gently fry the shallots until golden - maybe ten minutes. Add the garlic, chillies and fennel, fry briefly, then add the parsley. Cook for two minutes, then add the broccoli and the reserved water. Continue to cook tillthe broccoli is broken up into a sauce. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sseason with balck pepper and stir well.

Separately, fry the olives and pine nuts briefly in 1 tablespoon of olive oil till the nuts just take on a little colour.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain, add the broccoli sauce and stir in the olives and pine nuts and half the pecorino. Mix to coat all the shells.

Serve in big bowls with the rest of the cheese and perhaps a salad.

Yum. And very good cold next day for lunch. Four meals.

Monday, December 08, 2008

And this week I bought...and Made

Been very busy of late with family in town and lots of going out and not much cooking at home and then to top it off I was lead cook for food chain Sunday so had to do the prep for that for lunch for 64 lucky souls. So by Saturday morning I had an idea of what the week will be but no time before to be blogging.

I started at Ginger Pig where I bought a piece of pork to roast for Sunday roast and cold in lunches for a few days and a really fine piece of meat it was - £12.70

Then to Booths for veg - butternut, potatoes, fat sprouts roast dinner Sunday, then cold in lunches till Wednesday, courgettes in a chickpea dish Monday night that needs a little work, black kale same chick pea dish, purple broccoli, pine nuts fabulous pasta Wednesday night and clementines - £8.30

From Lizzie at Wild Beef I bought some of her lovely thin beef sausages which we had with english stick and ketchup for a decadent lunch Saturday afternoon, a treat that may need repeating if this winter stays as bleak as it is - £4

Tried for orrechiette at Gastronomica but no joy
So bought penne at Neals Yard as well as milk, bread and yoghurt - £9.40

And that was all - like most people we are set for some treats with others over the next few weeks so time at home will continue to be briefer than usual. Spent a total of £34.60

Also bought butter, brown sugar, hazelnuts and mustard and bread from Comptoir Gascon and a lettuce for salad with omelette Friday night using up the eggs from the week before last. Also had some olives and cheese from the week before that we enjoyed with some of the cheese going into an omelette Friday. Nothing much thrown away.

This time last year we were mostly eating garlic and white bean soup and before that daube of duck and prunes both fine winter dishes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Running Order

This is how to make rack of lamb with crisp new potatoes, carrot and parsnip mousses and green beans to serve in one hour and twenty minutes.

Start Scrape and parboil potatoes. Peel and chop 2 cloves garlic. – 15 minutes

10 minutes Peel and dice carrots and parsnips – 10 minutes

Parboil carrots with cardamom for 20 minutes.

Parboil parsnips separately – 15 minutes

15 minutes Top and tail beans, simmer – 10 mins

20 minutes Chop bacon and sweat – 5 minutes

20 minutes Drain potatoes and saute in duck fat – 30 minutes

22 minutes Chop spring onions, drain carrots and parsnips, make puddings with egg and tbspn butter, stir in spring onions Boil kettle for bain marie – 5 minutes

27 minutes Seal lamb, fat side down – 3 minutes

30 minutes Roast in oven – 15 minutes Plates in to warm

40 minutes Carrot puddings into bain marie and into oven for 20 minutes

40 minutes Make crust with 2 tbspn almonds, 1 tbspn chervil and tarragon – 4 mins

45 minutes Coat the fat side of the meat with the crumb mix and cook for 10 minutes

55 minutes Season cooked lamb and set aside.

55 minutes Remove bacon, deglaze pan with 125ml wine, bubble cognac.

1 hour Whisk in 30g butter - 10 minutes

1 hour 5 min Finish beans in a little olive oil – 2 mins

1 hour 10 Potatoes onto plate, topped with sliced lamb, drizzle of sauce across, carrots and beans onto plate, delicate ziggerzagger round the outside edge

It works.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Carrot and Parsnip Mousse(s)

Here is the last element of my Cuisine Cup dinner - individual puddings of carrot and parsnip, studded with spring onions. Made in little ramekins, they are beautiful - a bright orange splodge on the plate and a gentle mouthful of delicate sweetness when you try them. They are also really easy to make, and not particularly temperamental so your timings can be out by five or ten minutes and these will not spoil.

Carrot & Parsnip Mousse

3 large carrots
3 large parsnips
3 spring onions
1 egg
1 tablespoon butter + a bit extra for greasing the ramekins
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel and chop the carrots and parsnips into rings about a centimetre thick. They need to be cooked separately - so if time is more pressing than the amount of washing up you create, simmer them in two pans of salted water till they are tender. Fifteen minutes for the parsnips, twenty for the carrots. Or cook them one after the other in the same pan if you have started a little early.

Meanwhile clean and chop the spring onions - whites and the first centimetre or so of the green - into rings about a quarter of a centimetre thick. Grease the inside of four small ramekins with butter.
Drain the vegetables and put into one pan. Add the egg and the buttter and a generous amount of black pepper and process with a stick blender till you have a smooth purée. If you don't have a stick blender you can use a blender or food processor.

Stir the sliced spring onions into the vegetables.

Spoon the mix into the ramekins then put the ramekins into a baking pan. Half fill the pan with boiling water then put it into the oven on a middle shelf at Gas 4/180C for 20 minutes. If you are making them to go with the rack of lamb they cook quite happily on a lower shelf at Gas 6.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crisp New Potatoes

Went to France last weekend and had lunch one day in the local café. All the usual lovely things and all things duck - speciality of the region when you go to the Gers. I had the magret because I love magret and was expecting it to be served with chips. But no - it was served with new potatoes that had been cooked in stock and so were delicately flavoured and quite amazing.

With the cuisine cup ingredients listing three different types of new potatoes to be used and a requirement that one garnish for the lamb be potato based I thought of these little delights of last week and wondered about adding the joy of duck fat. Cook the potatoes in stock till they are fluffed all the way through then crisp them in a pan on a gentle heat till golden.
Crisp New Potatoes

750g waxy new potatoes, small as you can find
500ml stock or water
2 cloves garlic sliced
3 tablespoons of goose or duck fat
Salt and pepper

No need to peel them but scrape any scraggy bits of the potatoes. Leave them whole if they are tiny or halve if needs be. You want them to be about the size of a walnut. Parboil them in seasoned stock with the garlic slivers. After about 15 minutes drain them.

Heat the fat in a heavy based pan and add the potatoes and garlic. Cook on a gentle heat for about half an hour turning occasionally till they are crisp and golden all over. Sprinkle with a little crystal salt to serve.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

I was chosen by l'Atelier des Chefs to be a contestant in Cuisine Cup at their new shop in Welbeck Street, looking for a winning amateur cook. The competition was scheduled for Sunday - to be accepted I had to submit a recipe with the prime ingredient being 800g Norwegian salmon fillet. Spice crusted salmon fitted the bill. Not knowing much about the actual contest I assumed it would be at a domestic level, amongst a group of good local cooks.

Ha! 8 of the 12 contestants came over from Paris for the weekend, including one guy who had been in last years competition... They were all very intense and focussed and chatty in French. Very clear we anglais didn't really stand a chance. Certainly I didn't because I hadn't focussed on every single detail of my first dish which was fixed to what I had submitted as my application. But I really enjoyed it, partly because there was no pressure. My weekly language class came in handy for the day - everyone there was french, everything was discussed in french and the results were announced in french... except for the single English contestant who made it through, 15 year old Luke who was announced additionally in English. And the good news is he was the winner in the second round and so will go to Paris in February for the semis.

My salmon was lovely - one of the judges told me after that I was very close to the top four so that was nice. But the winners made things like pan fried salmon toppped with meringue and avruga caviar and a lemon foam and marinated slices with pomegranate and peppers and crisped salmon skin with caremalised lemon slices on a wheel of polenta that was divided into eights with alternating segments of half yellow and half died black with squid ink. Pretty as a picture and way out of my league. Most particularly plated up and served inside an hour.

I found the process interesting. I was committed to the salmon recipe I submitted but could play with the second round dish which was rack of lamb and lots of other stuff on a list. I really enjoyed concentrating on that dish and developing the idea and cooking it twice in a week when I've never cooked rack of lamb before. Usually when I cook the aim is making good food and something I fancy, but this time it was to make good food using ingredients that someone else had determined within a set time so the combinations and techniques I used were down to me but when it was finished was critical. Different way of creating.

Although I cook a lot and also make a huge range of food with lots of new and untried things I seldom focus on one dish in this way and develop it after trying one way and thinking more about it. The dish I ended up with was a lovely range of flavours and textures and very pretty on the plate. And all of it timed to be served inside one hour and twenty minutes - which for me is often a miracle in itself.

I made a crust with ground almonds, tarragon and chervil and roasted it, then made carrot and parsnip mousses studded with spring onions and cooked new potatoes in stock with garlic then, when cooked, fried gently in goose fat for half an hour till they were crisp and golden and fluffed in the middle and then served the whole lot with a sauce made with white wine, cognac and finished with butter that was thickened by the almond that had fallen into the pan while the lamb cooked. And I was really pleased with myself because the second go round it was great. Seriously.

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

2 rashers unsmoked bacon
2 tablepsoons goose or duck fat
1 rack of baby lamb
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 tablespoon of chopped tarragon and chervil
1 teaspoon olive oil
125ml dry white wine
2 tablespoons of Cognac
30g butter

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Chop the bacon into little strips and sweat it gently in the goose fat in a heavy oven pan. When the bacon has softened put in the lamb, fat side down and let it take on some colour for a couple of minutes. Turn the meat fat side up, season generously and roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile mix the ground almonds with the chopped herbs and the olive oil and a grinding of black pepper. Take the roast from the oven then coat the fat side of the meat with the herb mix and cook for another 10 minutes.

Remove the meat from the pan onto a warmed plate and cover it with foil.

Remove the bacon pieces and drain off the excess fat from the roasting tin then put it onto a high flame on top of the hob. Deglaze the pan with the white wine incorporating any almonds and herbs that remain, add the cognac and let it bubble fiercely for a minute or two till it reduces slightly. Take it off the heat and whisk in the butter. Check the seasoning.

Slice the lamb into individual chops, arrange prettily on a warmed plate and spoon over some sauce. For me, lamb begs for garlic potatoes and the individual mousses worked a treat. The slight squeakiness of some simply steamed green beans rounded out the dish to perfection.

There are worse ways to spend a Sunday - though when I walked out the door and it was snowing I did wonder what I was doing. Really bitterly cold and icy winds - and all for a final prize of cookware.

Friday, November 21, 2008

And I wanted...I bought...I made

Bit of a funny week coming up with me being in a competition for Cuisine Cup Sunday so I need to practice my dishes - spiced salmon for the first round, and rack of lamb with garlic potatoes and a cognac sauce. So that's Saturday lunch and dinner! Am thinking as well I may buy some gammon and make ham for an easy supper Sunday and lunches in the week. Monday we are out to see the exquisitely tantalising Ferran Adria in conversation at Queen Elizabeth Hall - about which I am very excited. So dinner may well be a ham sandwich after. Tuesday I am thinking the chick pea dish we didn't have last week, Wednesday we are out but Thursday we are home and will have some pasta. Though I have a lovely nubbly celeraic in the fridge so perhaps it will be soup. Friday my brother arrives so we shall have bacon and eggs and toast and juice to combat jet lag for breakfast - I shall join him to be sociable, obviously. And then I think steak and salad for dinner followed by a selection of finest cheeses.

Borough was spectacularly cold Saturday morning - waaaaaaa! Wore a big coat but forgot my gloves - stupid stupid stupid. Started at the Ginger Pig and bought a lovely rack of lamb - the second in a week as well as the second one ever. When I cooked it Friday night the chops didn't come out evenly and I was worried it would spoil my presentation in the competition if I made it that far. So I asked the butcher if he knew a way to cut them and he was really sweet and showed me the rack and the way it was smaller at one end than the other and so would always cut unevenly. Obvious once you know. Then, greedy as ever, I asked him to cut me a large piece of smoked gammon from what was an enormous piece. He weighed it and it was nearly 3 kilos in weight and £30 - I must have blanched. He was quite happy to cut me another piece from a smaller gammon which was about £20 in money - and someone richer than me will no doubt have bought the other piece. So my total was £32 - and a stamp on my ginger pig loyalty card

Then to Booths for carrots, cucumber, lettuce, mint, spring onions, tomatoes, and green beans costing £6.50

Furness for fish - a thick central fillet of salmon for £4 exactly

Eggs from a well wrapped up Lizzie - £1.70 they have gone up

Spinach from Tony's - £1.50

Bread, milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £8.50

A jar of duck fat from the French market - £3

Cottage loaf and a chocolate brownie from Flour Power - £3

So I spent £60.20. Not bad. I already had some courgettes, parsnips, potatoes and a giant celeriac in the fridge from my foray at lunchtime on Thursday so plenty of veg. Also bought basil and tarragon, a large bunch of parsley and some tins of tomatoes and cannellini beans on Brixton Road

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Heston Makes a Fondue!

Strictly speaking this is not Borough connected but I wanted to share this with you anyway. A couple of weeks ago I went to an evening hosted by the Sherry Institute of Spain where the brilliant Heston Blumenthal spoke of the work he had been doing with them pairing food and sherry. I am fascinated by the way he approaches food as an overarching interlocking experience about taste and texture, scents and remembrance of things past to create pleasure but also delight. He really spreads joy about his food. My serious wish for my birthday was to be given his new Big Fat Duck Cookbook - and it was a wish fulfilled.

One of my favourites of the little dishes we sampled that night was this warm fondue of gruyere and cloves paired with fino. When my friend Andrea lived in Balham we spent many pleasant afternoons sat in her garden dipping hunks of bread into a lightly bubbling cheese fondue in the sunshine, gossiping about everything and nothing, sipping a cool glass of wine. Sampling this creation reminded me of those happy days - evoking such food memories is one of this chef's driving passions. If only we'd known to add a little ground cloves.

Friday, November 07, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

Saturday night the lovely David is coming for dinner so I'm thinking roast - probably beef. Or maybe pork. Beef it was and a magnificent piece at that with a fabulous collection of salads Sunday maybe lunch out at the Oak in Clapham, okay but noisy and simple pasta tea that plan changed when Jaey and Marie came over late afternoon bearing champagne to celebrate her birthday so we all sat down to roast beef and salads from the fridge - dinner was ready in moments and just as fab as the night before. Monday grilled pork chops with mash and cabbage yes but with salad. Tuesday stirfry noodles a slightly unsuccessful chicken and peanuts and spicy cabbage. Wednesday I have french so it will have to be something simple and quick but we've run out of pork and beans so maybe omelette and salad properly french with spinach and fritons and ready in minutes. Thursday my sister hits town with her friend so we shall meet they were tired but full of stories of their travels so far. Friday I so don't know turns out the pack light plan didn't happen so my sister and her friend are spending a little quality time at the market this afternoon and bringing us a picnic supper as well as lots of suitcases to mind while they continue their sojourn.

At the Ginger Pig I bought a large piece of top rump - over 2 kilos in weight. The butcher compared two pieces for me - they were practically the same weight. So bought the first one for £27 - serious money for serious meat It was lovely roasted to just pink it served us well for dinner with guests both Saturday and Sunday and then for lunch till mid week

Then to Booths for potatoes for potato salad, garlic, a large bag of dried porcini for the pantry, fennel salad with carrots and celery already in the fridge, spinach omelette Wednsday night, zucchinis, plum tomatoes, dill and shallots all intended for a new chick pea dish that didn't happen so the zucchinis and tomatoes have had to be binned as we are away now till Wednesday but it can't be helped plus lots of dried fruit - apricots, raisins, blueberries and sultanas meant for compote but will have to be next week now - £14.50

At Furness my timing was bad - was being served as the bullet headed fat bloke decided to wash the floor and started shoving water at me with the fury of a man with a crab attached to his nether regions. Most odd. Hope it cheered his day - did nothing for mine. Did manage to get some prawns and after all that they went into the bin as they had been meant for Sunday night and then couldn't use them Monday either so too far away from the sea by Tuesday - £2.70

Then to the Gastronomica shop for tagliatelle in the cupboard - £1.50

Eggs for omelette and sausages for freezer from a very cheerful Lizzie back at Wild Beef after a few weeks away though bearing the bad news that egg prices will go up next week to cover the cost of feed - £5.50
Parmesan from the Gastronomica cheese stall - a lovely hunk for the fridge - £7

Then to complete the hat trick braesola from the last Gastronomica stall Saturday lunch and a little on toast for Sunday breakfast. Piled onto the top of their counter was panettone, more specifically chocolate panettone which we bought last year to find that it was utterly amazing. But when we returned the next week seeking more there was none to be had. They had sold their entire christmas allocation and there would be no more. When I fell on them with delight on Saturday the guy serving told me that last year their wholesaler had promised them more then sold the lot to a restaurant leaving them with a load of disappointed customers. So they have dealt direct with the manufacturer this year - so with luck they will be around for a few weeks yet. So that cost me £19 As fabulous as it was last year - we had it as dessert Saturday night with David who had been there the first time so was delighted with its reappearance, then more with Jaey and Marie and then for a couple of lunchtime treats

Then to Monmouth for coffee - a dark columbian roast - £8.50

Apples from Chegworth - £1.20

Peppers with some I had from last week roasted then dressed in basil oil from Tony - £1

Milk, yoghurt and bread from Neals Yard - £11.20

More bread from Flour Power, but no need for brownies - £1

So this week was expensive - £100.10 - but some pretty wonderful treats in there

This time last year we were mostly eating oxtail lasagne.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Steamed Aromatic Cod

Steam is what water becomes at 100C and if you have a pan that has a lidded steamer that slots into then it is a good way to cook - particularly delicate things. Steaming is the least intrusive of all cooking techniques – the color, texture and flavor of the food remain closer to what nature intended. Better still, steamed foods retain more nutrients and are lower in fat and calories than food cooked by other methods. Cooking this way brings about a subtle transformation in the ingredients you use. The steam can be scented with aromatics, which will in turn infuse flavour into the food as it cooks. It is a quick and healthy way to cook and I don't do it nearly enough.

So last Saturday night I was tempted by a recipe in Gordon Ramsay's Secrets to steam some cod. And it was marvellous.

It is very quick to make but you need to do a couple of things beforehand. First thing, wrap the fish in clingfilm and refrigerate it for the day. Then a couple of hours before you plan to eat, make the aromatic stock as it needs time to infuse. Then when it's dinner time, it's only five minutes away!

Aromatic Steamed Cod
2 cod steaks
1.5 litres water
6 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
10 cardamom pods
10 cloves
2 tablespoons pink or Sichuan peppercorns
large handful parsley sprigs
few large thyme sprigs
1 large bay leaf
3 shallots, sliced
1/2 head garlic
1 vanilla pod, split
1 lemon, cut into 6 slices
about 8 large lettuce leaves to line your steamer
few small basil sprigs
few tarragon sprigs
few rosemary sprigs
light olive oil to drizzle
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Check the fish for any bones, and pull out any you find with tweezers. Wrap the fish tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate for the day or overnight - this sets the shape.

Put the water into a large pan that has a steamer. Add all the spices, parsley, thyme, bay, garlic, vanilla and lemon slices. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let it infuse for an hour or two.

When ready to cook, unwrap the cod. Bring the aromatics water back to the boil. Line the base of the steamer with the lettuce leaves and scatter with the basil, tarragon and rosemary. Place the cod on top and season wiht salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

Fit the steamer over the pan of simmering water, cover and cook the fillets for 4-6 minutes. To test, check the flesh seems firm when pressed. Lift the fish onto warmed plates and serve with pilaff rice.

Afterwards, you can strain the solids from the stock and freeze it for another use, which would make for an ultra quick dinner.

Friday, October 31, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

Saturday night will be fish night I think - I have so much stuff otherwise in the freezer that the plan is to run it down and try and buy less for a few weeks. So fish will be the treat, possibly something spiced not spiced but steamed aromatic cod. Sunday I think I shall have spiced shoulder of lamb with roasted winter veg like swede and celeriac had the lamb with rosemary and garlic and sweet potatoes and swede with ginger and chilli and it was good. Monday we are out early on for culture at a private view of the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Tate so will have a quick pasta on our return or a spinach omelette topped with gorgonzola. Tuesday it's my birthday - yay! - so the man is taking me out for a most magnificent dinner at Bar Shu. Wednesday is school night but the man is meeting his parents for an early supper so I may well have scrambled eggs eggs were used Monday, the man didn't meet his folks so we had the last of the pork and beans from the freezer - will have to make more. Thursday a stirfry I think instead it was pasta with porcini and sage, and Friday grilled sausage sandwiches with caremalised onions.

Borough was quiet and calm - and cold first thing Saturday. For the first time in I don't know how long I didn't go to the Ginger Pig - am determined to clear a little space in the freezer. Started at Booths - bought potatoes - still there but fine for using next week, swede roasted with sweet potatoes and ginger Sunday, cabbage still there but fine, lettuce to make a bed for the steamed fish Saturday and the rest will be salad with sausages Friday, cucumber salad Friday, basil some for the fish and the rest of what was a big bunch I decided I would turn into basil oil, because I LOVE basil oil. Sunday I went into Sainsburys and bought 2 500ml glass botttles of olive oil, went home, stripped the leaves from the stalks, put them into a pan with the oil, brought it to a simmer, infused it till the oil was cold again, pushed the leaves into the base of the bottles, decanted the oil onto the leaves, screwed the lids on. Then, with greasy fingers I picked up an oily bottle and, like all the best horror scenarios, watched as the bottle slipped from my hands and very very slowly headed downwards and then smashed on the floor, glass, leaves and oil for miles. It took so long to happen I had time to think very clearly it's okay, the lid is on securely. Fat lot of difference that made - it took me an hour to clear up the mess and sugarsnaps lunches for a round £10

Going back past the front of Brindisa the smoked salmon stall was back - yay! a decadent topping for toast after the market - £5 a tub

Then to Furness for some cod steaks steamed Saturday - two thick ones cost £11.20

To Tony's for peppers was thinking roasted salad but they are still in the fridge, parsley for the cod and spinach was buttered and beautiful with the cod - £4

Eggs omelette Monday night from Wild Beef - £1.50

At Neals Yard they had some short dated strawberry yoghurt, when I was a kid I loved strawberry yoghurt but it has become too sweet in the intervening years but I couldn't resist so I bought one and it was just as good as the olden days as well as milk and an english stick thought we'd have bread with dinner Saturday but didn't so I froze it and we'll have it with sausages Friday night - £6.35

Then to Flour Power for more bread toast! and a brownie for my sweetheart - £3

A mere £41.05 - a totally bargain week

I have also bought olive oil, cream cheese, butter, brown sugar and icing sugar. I also bought rice at Wing Yip - £5.60 for 2kgs - I'm sure it was only £4.50 last time I bought some

This time last year we were mostly eating my grandmother's fruit cake and my first groundnut stew.

Pilaff Rice

This is quick, simple and fabulous.

I wanted our dinner Saturday night to be special so I'd dug out my copy of Gordon Ramsay's Secrets for inspiration. It's a great book, with some easy to follow recipes that usually end in a delightful meal. I decided we'd have fish, and was tempted by steamed aromatic cod. He suggested pilaff rice as an accompaniment - and I could see how good that would be.

We had a roasted chicken last week, hot Sunday and then cold in lunches for the week. By Saturday morning all I had left was the carcass. So, with two minutes effort and an hour on the hob while we breakfasted, this was the source of stock to make this rice dish. Gold star to me for frugality resulting from integrated cooking.

And that was as difficult as it got. By cooking this in the oven there is as close to no work involved and almost no chance of anything going wrong. You end up with delicately scented perfectly cooked individual grains of rice.

Pilaff Rice

250g basmati rice
50g ghee or clarified butter
1 small Spanish onion, chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
6 cardamom pods, seeds only
Pared zest of ½ an unwaxed lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
600ml chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 4. Tip the rice into a sieve and rinse well under cold running water until it runs clear.

Cut a circle of greaseproof paper slightly larger than the dish you are planning to cook the rice in, and make a small cut in the centre of it to act as a vent. This is called a cartouche - knowing that may one day win you £1million on millionaire.

Melt two thirds of the ghee or clarified butter in a heatproof casserole dish and sauté the onion until soft.

Add the rice, then stir in the bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom seeds and cook for 1 minute. Throw in the lemon zest with some seasoning and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover with the greaseproof. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes before removing the cartouche. Dot the remaining ghee or clarified butter on top. Fork through to separate and fluff up the rice, removing the whole spices before serving.

It was lovely with the steamed fish and would be equally good with just some dahl or vegetable curries, or alongside tandoori chicken - in fact it is so easy and tastes so good it is a really useful dish to have up your sleeve.

Friday, October 24, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

So absolutely don't know! There is a mass of food in the freezer and I must start to use it. So - might do fish Saturday had mussels with chilli and black beans and perhaps roast chicken stuffed with rice and herbs served with boiled pink fir potatoes and leeks that made a lovely salad to go with leftovers for lunches Sunday night. Monday I am delighted that my friend Adrienne and her husband are visiting from Mauritius so we shall have something special - I'm thinking duck and walnut salad followed by beef daube and mashed potatoes had the daube but had cauliflower soup to start and cheese and chocolates to finish but we shall see. Tuesday stirfry and spiced aubergine had a vegetable curry with rice with brussel sprouts and carrots, Wednesday we might finally get the pork and beans from the freezer we did Yay!, Thursday grilled pork chops utterly fabulous egg, bacon and chips. Friday omelette and salad we shall have the stirfry we didn't have Tuesday.

Started at Ginger Pig and bought a chicken and also got some pork fat for free. It's a sizeable piece of sweet creamy fat that I cut into quarters, froze three of them, and finely diced the remaining piece to add richness to my beef daube - £14.25

Booths for sweet potatoes, new potatoes, leeks, a stick of bright green brussel sprouts, a cauliflower, bananas - £7.20

Chocolates from L'Artisan du Chocolat - 2 bags - £4

Mussels from Furness - £5.50

Cheese from Gastronomica - a hunk of truffled pecorino and an oozing slice of gorgonzola - £10 the pair
Coffee from Monmouth - £9

Milk and bread and cream from Neals Yard - £7.40

A hot sausage roll from Ginger Pig - £3 - a bargain!

Bread and brownie from Flour Power - £3

A not unreasonable £63.65

I also bought butter, more cheese, nibbly crackers, a loaf of sourdough from St Johns and some rice.

The only thing I threw away was the last of the vegetable curry - eggshells and coffee grounds and scraps all went to the worms - who are multiplying happily and getting fat on Borough cast offs!

This time last year we were mostly eating hot cabbage salad and before that roast beef!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cabbage & Coconut

There's a fabulous little chain of restaurants in Bangkok called Cabbages & Condoms which serves amazing food and then hands out condoms instead of mints at the end of the meal. The thinking is that cabbages are a common food in Northeast Thailand, in fact they are a staple part of the diet, they are grown in every village and everybody eats them. If condoms could be as common and used as often, then some of the population and health problems facing Thailand could be overcome. Seems like a great idea to me.
We ate there the night we arrived in Bangkok - I remember being relieved to find the room was coolly airconditioned. We were decidedly jet lagged and as yet unused to the grasping heat having come from London in November. Dinner was good, on the way out we bought some postcards decorated with condoms, then as we walked back to our hotel in the sweaty night air we had to share the pavement with an elephant. Also, presumably, on its way home. It is an indelible memory.

This recipe has nothing to do with Thailand or elephants. Or condoms. But as I typed the title at the top of this post I was suddenly transported to that night in that city of delight.

Last night I made a few Indian dishes with rice for dinner and enjoyed them all but liked this one the best. It is quick and easy and richly scented. I made little kashmiri lamb burgers and dry spiced beans as well. The whole meal worked really well but you could as well have this just with rice or naan and perhaps some crispy fritters. It comes from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook.

Spicy Fried Cabbage

half a large cabbage
4 tbspns sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 or 3 fresh red chilies, seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbspn fresh ginger, grated
1 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn salt, or to taste
2 tbspns dessicated coconut

Shred the cabbage coarsely. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion and chillies until soft. Add garlic and ginger and fry, stirring, until golden. Add turmeric and cabbage, toss the cabbage thoroughly in the spicy oil, then cover and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until the cabbage is just tender.

Sprinkle with salt and mix well, then add coconut and stir to mix thoroughly. If there is any liquid in the bottom of the pan, leave the lid off and stir over a medium heat till all the liquid is absorbed.

Serve as an accompaniment to rice and curries.

It would also be good with some cucumber raita.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crumbed Cod

I really fancied some fish this week, simply crumbed and fried and possibly served with chips but all home made, partly because our local chippie is not much good. And partly because I made some fresh soft breadcrumbs a few weeks ago with leftover bread and put them into a big glass jar in the pantry. They catch my eye every day, making me want to use them. They are as far from the toxic orange sand that comes in packets from the supermarket as it is possible to be. They are large (relatively) and softly white, like curls of fluff and seemed to promise crispy golden casing of whatever I rolled them in. What joy!

Initially I was thinking of making fish cakes - it is such a long long time since I made any but last week, at Furness, I caught sight of the Whitby cod fillets and settled on them as my crumb center of choice. The fish is line caught and spanking fresh. I decided against chips - or even potato of any ilk - and went for a simpler dish with roasted peppers dressed with basil oil and a little mound of peppery watercress to make a really beautiful plate of food.

Crumbed Cod
for 2
2 fillets of cod, about 180g each
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Sunflower oil

About half an hour before you plan to eat set out 2 dinner plates and a shallow bowl. Tip the flour onto one plate and season generously. Tip the breadcrumbs onto the other plate. Beat the egg in the bowl and put the bowl between the two plates. Place a clean dinner plate after the plate of crumbs place. You need to do all this in advance as your hands get a ready coating of crumbs and it's just too complicated to try and retrieve something you have forgotten.

You are ready to crumb.

Pick up the first fillet and dredge it in the flour so that both sides are entirely coated in a thin layer of flour. Then dunk the fillet into the beaten egg, making sure there is a film of egg over the whole piece. Then dunk the fish into the crumbs, making sure the whole piece is covered.

Then, and this is the secret that will make your fish supper sublime, (and your fingers messy) dunk the fish into the egg again and then into the crumbs so that you have a lovely even coating. Place the well crumbed fillet onto the empty plate.

Repeat with the other fillet. Cover the fish with clingfilm and put it into the fridge for half an hour or so. This sets the crumb making it less likely to float straight off when the fish goes into the pan.

In a non stick pan heat about 2 tablespoons of oil till very hot. If the temperature is too low the oil will simply soak into the crumbs and be disgusting. When the oil is ready add the fillets and leave to cook, uncovered for 3-4 minutes, depending on the thickness. With a fish slice, flip each one over, so that the golden crumbs are now facing up. Continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes, when the whole fillet should be cased in deep rough golden crumbs.

Have a plate ready with a double layer of kitchen paper or a paper bag. When the fish is cooked remove it with a fish slice and put it briefly onto the paper to remove any excess oil. Then put onto dinner plates and serve with salad or chips and crusty bread.

Making your own breadcrumbs is really easy - as well as frugal and you end up with much better quality crumbs than any you buy prepacked. Cut the bread into thickish slices and, when you are next using the oven for something else, put the sliced bread onto the lower rack and leave to dry out for 10 minutes or so. Then break the bread up into the bowl of a food processor and whizz to your desired crumb size.

Feel smug at fresh food that has saved you money and cut your waste. Followed by a great dinner. What could be more perfect?

Friday, October 17, 2008

And this week I wanted, I bought, I made

I have a hankering for crumbed cod and salad so that may well be Saturday night special this week -and it was wonderful. Perhaps roast pork had a sudden irrational urge to not have roast - feels like it's terribly repetitive and almost lazy so ended up having cheese on toast after lunch out on Sunday. Monday a curry for a change kind of, had kashmiri lamb burgers, cabbage and coconut, dry spiced beans and rice with this as the basis for lunches till Thursday, then pasta perhaps Tuesday pork and noodle soup instead, may get the pork and beans out this week for after French class Wednesday was invited to a food bloggers event at the Kitchen so that was my class and made four dishes to bring home so was starving when I got in and had veal saltimbocca that I had made earlier and it was just lovely, noodles Thursday so we had a selection of dishes from the Kitchen that cried out to be eaten, so we had lentil samosas with lime crême fraiche and the man had cod fillet topped with a herb crust and I had chicken stuffed with ham and cheese and courgettes sautéed with garlic and bacon and sauages Friday, with onions but in fact it is pasta with a sage and butter sauce.

The market seemed fairly busy though we were there by 9 - but then I have just read that Borough Market has 4.7 million visitors a year so I shall have to stop being surprised. It's good for the Market - but I do wish they'd all wait to come after 10. Dream on.
Went to Ginger Pig and bought lamb mince kashmiri spice balls, pork mince and pork chops both in the freezer - not really in response to hard times, but it won't hurt to get a bit of practice in! - £17.50

Then to Booths for potatoes still there but fine to use, watercress fabulous with fish, aubergine meant for curry but still in the fridge and still okay, beans spiced Monday and then in lunches, mandarins lunches and dried porcini - £6.60

At Furness I bought a lovely piece of cod fillet Saturday special and fabulous- £5.10

At Wild Beef there was no Lizzie but she's on holidays which she richly deserves so I bought eggs and sausages freezer from Richard - £5.70

Bought 3 peppers roasted, peeled and dressed in basil oil as a perfect accompaniment for fish for a pound from the pile it high bloke

And a jar of brinjal pickle from the Indian stall - £3 - a bargain as it is fabulous

Fresh pasta from Gastronomica in the freezer most of the week but now to be dinner Friday as I've had a hankering - £5.40

Was thinking of smoked salmon but they weren't there - perhaps the seas were to rough to be crossing the Irish channel

Neals Yard for yoghurt, milk and bread - £6.60

Flour Power for cottage loaf and a brownie - £3

So a total of £53.90 - good!

I also bought onions, fresh noodles, coriander, lemons, coconut milk powder, bok choy, thai basil, butter, more milk, and chocolate biscuits

Apart from peelings I threw nothing away this week - the leftover bread I mushed with water and fed to my worms, which have settled in very well in their little farm. They eat almost exclusively from Borough too! Lucky worms.

This time last year we were mostly eating porridge! But only on weekend mornings. The rest of the time it was soup, particularly bean and barley, one of my most particularly favourite things.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ruby Chard and Mushroom Tagliatelle

Though we've had some lovely warm days recently autumn is definitely here. On the bus home last night the light wind was causing a flurry of leaves to fall like giant raindrops leaving golden splodges on Brixton Road and this morning at seven there was insufficient daylight. And it was drizzling. I guess the poor excuse we had for a summer this year is definitely over. Time to look forward to autumn.

It is a season of wonderful foods, more substantial than summers fripperies and often with wonderful colours to go with flavours that have developed over the last few months of warmth if not sunshine. At the market on Saturday Booths had great piles of pumpkins and squashes and apples and crinkly cabbages calling out 'eat me, eat me!' Metaphorically you understand. I bought some big flat field mushrooms with deep brown gills and fell in love with the flashness of the ruby chard - you don't have to be looking at it for long to know why it is called Beta Vulgaris. The stems positively glow jewel red offset with huge soft leaves the colour of a mossy pond. I did not resist.

So Tuesday's dinner had to be pasta, enriched with butter rather than cream, depth added to the flavour with a few dried porcini and their rehydrating bath. Perfect autumn food. The recipe is from a River Café recipe supplement from the Guardian a long time ago that I saved and found again.

Ruby Chard & Mushroom Tagliatelle

500g ruby (or other) chard
250g flat field mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
15g dried porcini
50g parmesan
120g unsalted butter
300g egg tagliatelle

Put a medium sized pan of salted water on to boil. Cut the stalks from the chard and slice into inch long pieces, roughly tear the leaves. Boil the stalks for five minutes then add the leaves and cook together for a few minutes till tender. Drain and cool, then chop roughly together.

Meanwhile, soak the dried porcini in 150ml hot water. Trim and finely slice the mushrooms. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Grate the Parmesan.

Drain the porcini - keeping the soaking liquid - and chop them roughly.

Heat a large pan of salted water to boiling. Then melt half the butter in a separate large thick bottomed pan and when it just starts to fizz add the fresh mushrooms and cook until lightly brown. Add the garlic, the porcini and 4 tablespoons of their soaking liquid. Season and cook together for a few minutes until the flavours combine and the liquid is reduced. Stir in the chard and the remaining butter.

Cook the tagliatelle in the boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, add to the chard and mushrooms, toss thoroughly and serve with the Parmesan.

What you end up with is a perfect autumn dish. Looks, smells, tastes - the lot.
Useless information department - in Australia chard is called spinach and spinach is called English spinach. I'm guessing if they have ruby chard they just call it Vulgar!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quick Chickpea Soup & (souper)Stardom

UKTV Food is - rather obviously - a satellite channel linked to an extensive website devoted to the joys of food. Lots of chefs and stories and recipes and a mix of old shows and newly commisoned programmes. Their flagship programme is Market Kitchen which goes out weekdays with an interesting mix of seasonal recipes, clever tricks and a starry array of chefs from all over, cooking and chatting with the regular hosts like Matthew Fort and Tom Parker-Bowles. There's a segment shot in Borough Market using some of their lovely produce to make great meals. For those who've yet to experience the delight that is Borough you can at least see it here in all it's glory. It's all shot in front of an audience at tables who get to sample the food as it is made - and be on the tv at the same time.

They are having a competition this month to find a new presenter - surely a gift to those of us who want to spread the joy of food. It simply involves doing a short clip - up to a minute - telling of your love of food and posting it on YouTube. Check out the full details here. The winner gets their very own Market Kitchen feature, filmed at Borough Market, and a cookery course and stay at Rick Stein's Seafood school with accommodation included. Got to be worth a shot!

One of the judges will be Rachel Allen who cooks dishes in her kitchen in Ireland that are broadcast on the show. Last week she made this quick soup with chickpeas and tinned tomatoes, flavoured with cumin. I liked the look of it, so made a version of it last night for an easy Sunday supper. She served it with chili pitta chips - since I topped mine with chilli and garlic oil, we had thick slices of light swiss rye on the side.

Quick Chickpea Soup

3 tbsp olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 1/2 tsp freshly ground toasted cumin - toast the seeds till fragrant then grind in a pestle
pinch sugar
400g tinned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
300ml vegetable or light chicken stock
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 lemon, juice only
2 tbsp parsley, leaves and stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tspn chilli flakes
2 tbspns olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the celery, onion and some salt and pepper. Turn down to a low heat, cover the pan with the lid and cook the vegetables until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin and cook for another minute, then pour in the tomatoes and all their juices along with the sugar. Add the chickpeas and the stock and simmer for 5 minutes.

Simmer for 10-15 minutes then, with a stick blender, process about a third of the soup to thicken it. Add the lemon juice. Check the seasoning to taste.

In a small pan heat the olive oil and add the parsley, garlic and chilli. Cook over a gentle heat till the garlic is translucent and all is fragrant.

Serve the soup in deep bowls and swirl the spiced oil across the top.

Scallops with Bacon and Cauliflower Purée

Last week I bought a cauliflower at Booths. I was making a vegetable pulau and it was intended for that. But only half of it. Come the end of the week the other half was still in the fridge and I didn't want to waste it. Though not expensive it still seems wrong to throw it away so I wanted to incorporate it into the weekend menu somewhere. Initially I thought of cauliflower cheese with Sunday roast but then I had a hankering for something a little more exotic, fritters possibly. Spiced.

Then I couldn't think what to have with spicy cauliflower fritters so that plan went by the board as soon as I thought of scallops. I love them with a passion, their sweet dense flesh is always a joy. The man shares my feelings for these creamy little discs fresh from the sea. The two things are a marriage made in heaven. It could perhaps be thought that spending £9.50 on scallops in order not to waste 50p worth of cauliflower was not a well considered plan but I would argue that it was one of my best plans of the month. It was an amazing dish - the purée, made with stock rather than cream, was a wonderfully delicate thing, matched perfectly by the perfectly cooked scallops. And the topping of finely shredded bacon cooked briefly with garlic and parsley rounded out the salty sweet flavours to make a dish that was simple and extraordinary.

Scallops with creamed cauliflower, bacon and garlic
8 medium-large scallops, removed from the shell and cleaned
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
60g streaky bacon cut into very thin strips
80g butter
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1tbsp chopped parsley

for the cauliflower purée
1 small head of cauliflower or half a medium head
Stock to cover - I used chicken but vegetable would work
A good knob of butter

First make the creamed cauliflower. Chop the cauliflower into small pieces and put them into a saucepan with the butter and just cover with stock. Season with salt and pepper, cover and bring to the boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally then remove the lid and cook on a high heat until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Blend until smooth with a stick blender then re-season. Leave on a very low heat.

Meanwhile gently cook the bacon in about 20g of the butter, add the garlic cloves now and cook for 2-3 minutes without colouring.

While the bacon cooks season the scallops on both sides and heat a pan, preferably non stick, with a little oil until almost smoking. Fry the scallops on a high heat for about a minute on each side.

Add the rest of the butter to the bacon/garlic mix and heat until foaming, then add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Put a generous slick of cauliflower onto two plates, top with 4 scallops on each and then spoon the bacon on top.


This comes from a recipe by Mark Hix published a few years ago in the Independent but accessible with the magic of the internet.

Friday, October 10, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

I shall see what the man fancies for Saturday night but I am thinking - fish and by wanting to use up half a cauliflower we had scallops on a purée - divine. Sunday I am out so probably a roast in the evening plans went awry so had lunch out and had chickpea soup for supper. Monday pasta perhaps so we had roast beef and veg and chickpea soup Tuesday pasta instead with mushrooms and ruby chard. Wednesday will be bean stew from the freezer I think the man was out so I had a bacon omelette after French, then Thursday noodles or stirfry fabulous dish of chicken with peppers and peanuts. Friday is too far away but now it's here, I still have cabbage, so cabbage and potato bake.

Borough Market was quietish in the sunshine Saturday morning - a real pleasure to wander about. At Ginger Pig I bought a piece of topside to roast for dinner Monday and lunches through the week and some unsmoked streaky bacon with scallops Saturday night - £21

A jar of peaches from Brindisa for the cupboard because I went to an evening of food pairing with Heston Blumenthal last week organised by the Sherry Institute of Spain that was extraordinary as I got to meet the great man and taste his food and there can be no greater excitement on a Monday night. One of his pairings was Amontillado with Pata Negra Ham, Peaches, Balsamic Vinegar, Rocket and Marcona Almonds - in fact a complete shopping list from Brindisa - the sherry when tasted with the peach its flavour was extended by the sherry, bringing out the fresh ripe notes. So I'm planning to sample some more sherries with the pairings from the other night and this is the beginning of that - £5.95

Then to Booths for veg - celery, leeks with roast beef, cabbage with potato bake, green peppers stirfry, mushrooms, rainbow chard for the beautiful colour and both for pasta, and more colour from the mandarins, sugarsnaps as well both for lunchboxes - £8.90

Over to Wild Beef for eggs omelette Wednesday, eggwhite in the stirfry and topping for cabbage and potato bake - £1.50 goes such a long way! - and to return a mass of eggboxes because I finally remembered to take them with me - £1.50

Tagliatelle half a pack for dinner half in the cupboard from Gastronomica - £2

Parma ham and buffalo mozzarella Saturday lunch from the Italian stall - £9.50

Coffee from Monmouth - £9
Scallops Saturday special! from Furness because I had half a cauliflower left from last weeks shop and wanted to use it as a purée - and what better accompaniment for a Saturday treat? - £9.50
Milk, cream and bread from Neals Yard - £9.40

More bread and a chocolate brownie for my sweetie from Flour Power - £3

So this week we spent £79.75

I also bought onions, butter and chocolate biscuits, some bread Wednesday to go with my omelette plus some new potatoes Friday.

This time last year we were mostly eating spicy parsnip soup - might need some soon and boiled ginger cake. I find it interesting looking back to what we had before - the seasonality of our eating comes through with different dishes using the same ingredients. It has a lovely rhythm.