Friday, August 29, 2008

And this week...I bought

Bit of a mish mash of a week just gone with lots of lovely SW France food over the weekend and a bit of a scrabble then on our return with a mediocre courgette pasta dish Wednesday night and a really fabulous bean and bacon stew Thursday night with the joy of leftovers in the freezer for future feasts.

Not entirely sure what to be having for the week ahead though - Saturday is meant to be warm (!) so grilled fish a lovely piece of tuna and salad would be nice - but only if that's true. Sunday is meant to be stormy so a roast shoulder of pork with roasted butternut and buttered leeks methinks with leftovers for lunches. No plans for the moment for the week so, entirely randomly, grilled duck (brought home from the Gers) and salad Monday had it Tuesday with potatoes in a white sauce, stirfried noodles Tuesday, dahl and rice Wednesday had homestyle tofu and rice, risotto Thursday dahl and stewed aubergine and tomatoes and pasta Friday hot fritters with cold dahl and aubergine.

Miracles will never cease - the sun shone on Saturday. Not with any great warmth it's got to be said but beggars can't be choosers. Though I wish I'd worn a cardie to the market. Bought a large piece of boned shoulder of pork Sudnay night roast and lunchboxes at Ginger Pig - and that was all! £13.70

Then to Booths for potatoes, lettuce, aubergine, sugar snaps, tomatoes, bananas, leeks, butternut, carrots and a bunch of deep green watercress - £8.20

Chocolates to cheer a colleague - £2

Fish! The smoked salmon stall was there this week so, after a quick sample of their very fine wares I bought a tub for a decadent Sunday breakfast with scrambled eggs and toast that the man made while I read the papers that he'd been out in the rain to buy - £5

More fish! Two fine tuna steaks Saturday night from Furness - £8.40

Eggs and a pack of sausages from Wild Beef for the freezer - we had a pack from the freezer Friday night with onion gravy on sourdough bread from St Johns and it was a real treat to be repeated soon - £5.50

A piece of roquefort from the French cheese stall to try and recreate a salad with toasted walnuts and a walnut oil/sherry vinegar dressing Monday night we had while we were away - £3.20

Pork pie Saturday lunch because the last one was so good - but they've gone up 10p to an even £5
Milk, yoghurt, cream and pasta from Neals Yard - £11.70

And a brownie for the man - £1.50

Altogether a reasonable £64.20
Bought a few extras - a large block of firm tofu, dried mushrooms and a bunch of coriander from Wing Yip in Brixton, onions and spring onions from my local fruit and veg shop, and butter and tinned corn at the supermarket.

White Bean and Bacon Stew

After a few days in France where the sun shone every day - I am aware that in summer sunshine from Friday to Tuesday is not exceptional but it seems nothing short of a miracle with all this bleak weather in London. It has been grey and overcast since our return with that miserable half light that is neither day nor dusk, dragging spirits into the dirt. In France we had lunches out and barbecue nights - wearing shorts! In London it's back at work for daytimes and cardies at night.

I had some smoked bacon pieces in the freezer from a couple of weeks ago so decided if bleak was to be the order of the week then perhaps autumnal food was the way to deal with it. A kind of matching food and weather rather than food and wine. I bought some dried white Argentinian beans - a white kidney bean grown in Argentina I'm guessing - and soaked them overnight with a plan to make a sort of frenchy peasant stew with flavour from the bacon and lots of vegetables. Robust ones like swede and celery and some duke of yorks red potatoes left from last week. And obviously garlic and herbs. I can't recommend it enough - cheered us no end!

White Bean & Smoked Bacon Stew
500g white kidney beans, soaked for 12 hours in cold water
300g smoked bacon pieces, fat and flesh separated and diced
Large swede, about 500g, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced inot 1/2 cm rounds
4 ribs celery, washed and cut into pieces 2 or 3 cms long
1 onion, peeled, halved and studded with 4 cloves
Bouquet garni of bay leaf, celery leaves, parsley, thyme, sage leaf and rosemary
10 peppercorns
3 fat garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
6 sprigs of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
500g new waxy potatoes, washed but not peeled and cut into quarters

Drain soaked beans and put into a very large pan with the diced bacon flesh and the clove studded onion and cover with water by about 2cms. Bring to the boil.

Meanwhile, heat the bacon fat in a heavy based pan till it starts to melt then add the sliced swede. Cook, stirring occasionally, till the swede is golden and slightly crispy and the bacon is the same.

Skim the white foam from the beans then add the swede and bacon, carrots, celery, bouquet garni and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer then cover the pan and cook for about an hour. Add the potatoes, parsley and garlic and about a tablespoon of salt. Continue to cook, uncovered, for another half hour or so till the potatoes are cooked. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in deep bowls. Crusty bread optional.

This makes a lot! We've got three more servings in tubs in the freezer for other times.

Don't be put off by using the bacon fat - it is the only oil in the whole dish and, because it is all cooked in water it is in fact very light, sort of delicate and robust at the same time. Perfect for bleak summer nights.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Corn is cheaper than wheat. This is true now and has generally been true for a long time. It therefore follows that flour or meal made from corn makes a more economical bread than one using wheat flour. Native Americans were using cornmeal to make cornbread before European explorers arrived in the New World. There has been a continuous history of cornbread there ever since. I associate it particularly with the south but in fact it is common throughout the States, though in the north it may be a little sweeter and is more likely to be fried in the south. But wherever it is made it is a combination of milled corn, buttermilk and an egg with a vast range of possibilities of what else to add to make a new version.

I had cooked a ham for Sunday and really fancied thick slices of it with a fried egg on top of a chunk of cornbread with a pile of spiced dressed salad on the side Monday night. Once I'd made the bread and salad I could sit back while the man actually produced dinner - a process I love.

The basic recipe I used came from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's column in the Guardian with a few tweaks.
135g plain flour
125g cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
½-1 tsp fine sea salt (depending on how salty your cheese is)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
A few grinds black pepper
150g tin corn kernels
100g strong cheddar, grated
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 tspn chilli flakes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp runny honey (or caster sugar)
140ml buttermilk
140ml whole milk
30g unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/ gas mark 7. Put the butter into a 23cm x 23cm x 4cm baking tin.

In a bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, bicarb and pepper. Stir in the sweetcorn, cheddar, onions and chilli flakes.

Pour the eggs into a jug with the honey, buttermilk and milk and whisk together.

Put the pan with the butter into the oven for a few minutes till the butter is melted. Take the pan out and make sure the butter covers all the surfaces.

Pour the egg/milks mix into the dry ingredients, stirring, until everything is just combined. Don't overmix - a few lumps in the batter is fine. Pour the batter into the prepared pan straight away, and bake until the top is golden and the edges have slightly pulled away from the sides, about 20-25 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm.

This makes a good sized pan of well flavoured crumbly bread that was equally enjoyable next day cold for a mid morning snack.
And the day after that I sliced the last of the tipan and split the cornbread and made ham sandwiches.
And they were very good indeed.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Spiced Spare Ribs

Not entirely sure what the correct definiton of spare ribs is. They are a long cut from the lower portion of the pig, specifically the belly and breastbone, behind the shoulder, and include 11 to 13 long bones. They come as a sheet about a foot and a half long with a covering of meat on top of the bones as well as between them. Since the ribs are what are left after the loin is removed from the top and after the layer of fat and lean that will become bacon is removed from the sides of the pig's carcass how meaty or fatty or ‘spare’ the ribs are will vary widely. But however they come, they have a great affinity to being lavishly slathered with sweet and spicy sauces. They can only be eaten clutched in your hand, with the pleasure of gnawing on juicy bones while your fingers get covered in sticky stuff and half way up to the elbow in my case. Seriously good food.

Americans eat spare ribs with great gusto either done as a long slow barbecue or spiced with chilli and ketchup and roasted. The number of rib shacks in the states is probably unknowable. But for me the strongest association with ribs is for Chinese style. For many years I have split them, marinated them for a while in ginger, garlic, honey, five spice and soy and then simply roasted them in a hot oven till darkly shining and smelling amazing. Then I came across this version in Fuchsia Dunlop's book, Revolutionary Chinese Cooking, where they are boiled first then drained, then a little of the cooking water is returned to the pan with the ribs and a mix of sauces and spices and cooked down to a different dark shining pile. Then leave them to cool and eat them cold. With a pile of napkins nearby.

Spiced Spare Ribs

500g meaty spare ribs, cut into bite sized bits
2 x 30g pieces fresh ginger, unpeeled and crushed
4 spring onions, white parts only, crushed
1 tbspn shaoxing wine
2 tspn dark soy sauce
4 tbspn white sugar
1 tbspn chinkiang vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
groundnut oil for cooking
Put the ribs in a pan of water and bring to the boil over a high flame. Skim then add one of the pieces of ginger, 2 spring onions, the shaoxing wine and salt to taste. Boil for 15 minutes until the meat is tender. Strain and set aside, reserving 200ml of the cooking liquid.

Heat 3 tbspns of oil in a wok and add the remaining spring onions and ginger and stir fry till fragrant. Add the ribs and toss for a f ew minutes in the fragrant oil. Add the reserved cooking liquid, soy and sugar then simmer over a medium flame. Spoon the liquid over the ribs until the sauce is reduced to a heavy syrupy consistency.

Add the vinegar and cook for another minute or two, until the flavours have fused. Off the heat, stir in the sesame oil and leave to cool before eating.

They were part of a feast we had Sunday night after seeing Thge Dark Knight at IMAX - let me recommend it as a brilliant way to see such a film. The whole meal was cold - though sadly the day had not turned out hot. As well as the ribs we had tipan, star anise chicken, steamed rice for gathering the juices, and salads of both spinach and aubergine. It was a quite splendid meal with an amazing range of flavours and textures and colour. And all of it prepared way in advance. Stress free and fabulous, a perfect way to end the weekend.

Friday, August 15, 2008

And this week...I bought

Contemplating a bit of a chinesey phase at the moment - the heat of the spice cancels out the rain and the lightness of the dishes in general make it still seem like summer. Don't know really about the whole week but am thinking actually some steak and salad Saturday night with steak from the freezer and very fine it was, a little cheese to follow. Sunday afternoon we are going to see The Dark Knight on the IMAX screen - very excited - and then we are all coming back to ours for supper which I plan to make cold Chinese. Centrepiece of tipan, some sticky ribs, sesame noodles and a selection of salads - make it all in advance so easy and pleasurable when we get home worked a treat though we had plain cooled rice rather than noodles and I added a dish of anise chicken. And leftovers for lunches. Monday I'm thinking salad and corn bread, because I have an untried recipe for cornbread three out of three on the planning front almost - did do the cornbread and salad but added a thick slice of chinese ham and a fried egg and it was brilliant. Tuesday I'm out - going to be on the tv - I'm one of a team of foodbloggers on a quiz show being shot at Borough. Slightly wrong end of stick there - it was a quiz and lots of fun but it was to publicise the new series of Market Kitchen on UKTV food and we did okay as the UK Food Bloggers even if we didn't win :( Wednesday quite fancy a version of pork chop soup had pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta and a sauce made withthe leftover plum tomatoes from last week and the last spoonful of crĂȘme fraiche, Thursday probably sausages and salad dan dan noodles and coriander salad before a very early start Friday to get to Stansted.

Coolish but nice Saturday morning and Borough Market was nice and quiet when we arrived - really nice to wander about before the hordes descend. Started as ever at Ginger Pig where I bought a piece of unsmoked gammon tipan, two chicken breasts anise chicken, a sheet of meaty pork ribs spiced ribs and a big handful of smoked bacon in the freezer for a reasonable £33.50.
Then to see Lizzie at Wild Beef, still suffering from back pain which is undoubtedly exacerbated by standing on the hard concrete of the market every week. Bought some eggs - £1.50

Bought 4 peppers - 2 bright red 1 for lunch, hoping the rest will survive the weekend, 2 intense orange - from the pile it high stall for £1

Coffee from Monmouth £9

Large box of strawberries I made a strawberry tart for dessert Sunday and a cold apple juice from Monmouth - £3.50

Stuffed pasta dinner Wednesday from Gastronomica - £4.50
Parma ham and buffalo mozzarella lunch Saturday from the Italian stall - £9.50

Booths for veg - potatoes, turnip should be fine in the fridge till next week, aubergine salad Sunday night, cucumber, lettuce salad Monday night - £4

Spinach salad Sunday from Tony - £1.50

Milk, bread, creme fraiche and bread from a curiously cheerless young man at Neals Yard - £15.70

And a cottage loaf from Flour Power - £1

A grand total of £84.70

I bought a few extras this week - spring onions, ginger, noodles, coriander and oyster sauce from Wing Yip for dinner Sunday and more spring onions, sugarsnaps, milk, biscuits and butter from Waitrose

This time last year we were mostly eating rice and spinach loaf and the year before cheese and spinach omelette - it is spinach time of year! Only spent £62.40 two years ago for a fairly similar haul - prices are on the up.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Carrot & Ginger Stirfry

Ginger is a fabulous thing in all its forms, bringing hot sweetness to any dish it is added to. Fresh, it's a fairly ugly looking root, all gnarled and knobbly, making it difficult to peel. Though I have discovered that it is simplicity itself to peel using the edge of a teaspoon. Try it - works every time.
I use masses of it fresh - mostly for flavour in stirfries and curries and as the essential ingredient in dal. I also like it grated into a pot of rhubarb before it cooks, it goes well with the tart sweetness. As a kid I loved the big tins of melon and ginger jam my mother used to buy - though it is many years since I have seen such a thing. Bring it back, I say, if it tastes as good as my memory recalls.

Idly checking a few web pages for a little nugget of something about ginger I came across the source of the phrase ' to ginger up'. It comes from times when slightly unscrupulous horsetraders would insert a nugget of peeled ginger into the anus of an old horse they were trying to sell. The resulting minor irritation would cause the animal to prance about with its tail up and head held high just like a much younger horse. Presumably it's also where 'geeing up' comes from too!

The recipe comes from BEYOND THE GREAT WALL BY Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I was struck by it when I first read it because of the sheer amount of ginger - it is one of the major ingredients rather than the usual flavour enhancer. I was intrigued by the sound of it and liked the idea of the visual vibrancy of the orange/gold combination mimicking the kick of the sweet spiciness. Turns out it was all this - and more.

Carrot and Ginger Stirfry

2 tablespoons peanut oil or lard
1 tablespoon minced garlic
100g ground pork
3 dried red chillies
350g carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (1 3/4 cups)
150g ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks (1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
10 to 12 Sichuan peppercorns, lightly crushed or coarsely ground
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste

Heat a wok or wide heavy pan over high heat. Add the oil or lard and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds or so, then toss in the pork and chillies. Stir-fry, separating the pieces of meat so all get exposed to the hot pan, until they have started to change color all over, less than 2 minutes.

Toss in the carrots and ginger and stir-fry for about a minute. Add the salt and stir-fry for another minute. Add the water, cover, and boil vigorously for about 3 minutes, then remove the lid and let the liquid boil down for a minute or two. Add the Sichuan peppercorns and soy sauce. Stir-fry for another minute, or until the carrots and ginger are tender but still firm.

Turn the stir-fry out onto a shallow bowl and serve hot or warm.

Leftovers cold next day for lunch worked a treat.
Granted it is probably not a recipe title that instantaneously gets the gastric juices flowing but don't be deceived. This is a great dish on so many levels. It is quick, clean, crisp, easy to make, you can eat it hot, warm or cold - and next day for lunch. It is really attractive to look at, smells divine and has lots of interesting textures in your mouth. Not sold? It is the kind of dish that I will almost always have the ingredients for - a few carrots, a large lump of fresh ginger, some cloves of garlic. I also keep little packs of minced pork in the freezer in 50-75g lumps for a whole variety of asian dishes - a trick well worth emulating if you cook lots of Chinese food. So for me this is a great mid week treat - on its own with rice or with another dish, which can then be a bit more finicky as your attention won't be dragged away at a critical moment.

Monday, August 11, 2008

And this week ...I bought

Felt better Saturday than I had for the last few days so headed to Borough Market. Left in the sunshine, it was raining by the time we returned. And absolutely pouring by the time we went out in the afternoon. Had no great plan for the week beyond doing most of what I'd thought I'd do last week before life got in the way.

At the Ginger Pig I decided, since I didn't have much to buy this week, we could afford steak so got a thick slice of well aged rump a magnificent thing, so huge we cut it in half before it went in to the freezer, thinking one slice between us for Friday night dinner but now we are going to see Hadrian at the British Museum so it shall stay there as a treat for (two) other times and half a kilo of pork mince split it into four packs to make chinese dishes, and used one with ginger and carrot stirfiry Wednesday night and the rest will be there for other meals - £24.80 Possibly not frugal.

Then bought eggs for a quiche for Sunday lunch with leftovers for lunch Monday/Tuesday and sausages just as a freezer standby from Wild Beef from Richard for a change as Lizzie was off with a bad back - £5.30

Rocchetta some in the base of the quiche, some for snacking from Gastronomica - where it is true that Gianni has left and is currently adrift on a boat somewhere. Cheese buying will not be the same. £4

Tomatoes with salad to go with pork chops from the freezer and potatoes and radishes from our garden Tuesday night for one of the most enjoyable of dinners, then into lunch boxes, might roast the last of them with basil from the pile it high bloke out the back - tried one first and it was sweet - £1

Chocolates for our dinner hosts Saturday night - £2

Braesola with rocket from the garden on ciabatta for a really good lunch Saturday from the other Gastronimica and some buffalo milk ricotta out of curiosity to go with fennel and sausage pasta Thursday night - £5.80

Booths for the least I've ever bought there - some green beans lunches and a bunch of spring onions as yet unused - £1.20

Strawberries Sunday smoothies and mixed peppers stir fried with black beans Wednesday night from Tony - £2

Hot sausage roll from Ginger Pig for my Miss Piggy brunch - £3

Then there was a woman outside Neals Yard selling icecream made from their eggs and cream - much to the delight of the man - he had a generous chocolate cone £2.50

Also bought milk and cream - £5.80

A cottage loaf from Flour Power - £1

And a large ciabatta half for the weekend and half in the freezer till Thursday night to go with pasta supper and some toast Friday morning from the Italian stall on the corner of Stoney Street that was swarming with people with young babies apparently buying nothing - £3

And some bananas for smoothies from Elsey & Bent - £1.22

Some things for the cupboards and freezer for a total of £62.62 - not quite as cheap as I was thinking but not bad

This time last year we were mostly eating roast chicken stuffed with bread and herbs and August 2006 featured mushroom and asparagus lasagne - one of my favourite things.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Meme - 6 random facts

I have been very kindly tagged by Serena from Rock Cakes to share 6 random things about myself. More difficult than you'd think!

Tag Rules:

Link to the person who tagged you. Post the rules on the blog. Write six random things about yourself. Tag six people at the end of your post. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

6 random facts about me:

I have lived in London for nearly 25 years

I am hugely disappointed whenever I make something that is not as good as I was hoping for

I love going to the first session at the cinema to see a film, preferably with no one else there except me

I hate shopping for anything except food

I am learning to speak French - very slowly. Sometimes I like it.

I have just bought a worm farm - and am fascinated by the idea of a small ecosystem whereby I feed the worms our kitchen waste, they make worm juice to feed the garden, and we grow some herbs and vegetables the discard from which becomes kitchen waste to feed the worms

I am tagging

Flowers in the Kitchen

Red Cook

Breakaway Cook

Eat Like a Girl

A Slice of Cherry Pie

A Merrier World


Friday, August 01, 2008

And this week... I bought

I have no idea what to have next week - we are out Saturday night, as well as Wednesday and I'm out Thursday. But I did see some fab looking focaccia as we were leaving the market last week and I have my heart set on some this week so a cold collation Saturday I think late in the afternoon before we go out. No no no! Essentially nothing happened like this plan! Saturday we had hot sausage and onion sandwiches with ketchup that were a reall treat.Sunday I'm thinking perhaps roast lamb, or burgers perhaps it was burgers and roasted vegetable salad that was lunches in the week and very nice too, cooler and quicker to cook, summer still being here for the moment. Monday salad that happened with fritons and poached egg, Tuesday pasta or chinese might be nice but we went out for dinner at Wright Bros with a friend from Hong Kong, then Wednesday we had a quick dinner at Anchor & Hope before Pygmalion, Thursday I was ill, so didn't go anywhere and the man made a requested ultra bland pasta with a little egg scrambled through it. Friday might get last week's pork chops from the freezer for a treat. We shall see. The man brought takeaway home so it was almost a whole week without cooking.

And so to market. The Italian stall had no foccacia this week so the plan was already changing! We started at Ginger Pig and bought some lamb mince at £7.50 a kilo fab burgers Sunday night and cold for lunchboxes
Bought tuna at Brindisa - £3.80 Cupboard

Then to Booths for lettuce for salad Monday and the rest ended up in the bin as it turned slimy, tomatoes, courgettes, peppers roasted veg Sunday, fennel, red onion still in the fridge as the pasta didn't happen - fairly light this week - £6.20

Parmesan for the fridge from Gastronomica - forgot to check validity of the rumour that Gianni has left but he certainly wasn't there. I shall miss him if it's true... £4.90

Went to the other Gastronomica for some fennel sausage freezer - £2.50

The man requested hot sausages in a bun for lunch Saturday so it was back to Ginger Pig for some traditional sausages - £4.30

Then to Neals Yard for pasta - I had run out in the week so bought three packs, plus milk and yoghurt £11.70

Cottage loaf from Flour Power - still a bargain £1

Ciabatta rolls from the Italian shop on the end Saturday lunch - not a bargain £2.90

Slight week - £44.80

This time last year we were mostly eating zucchini fritttata and sesame noodles, that we also had last week this year.