Friday, October 30, 2009

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

Saturday we are out in the afternoon for some culture at the V&A with David so dinner will be quick I think (or late!) skinny beef sausages with green salad and crusty bread, serious yum, Sunday we are out to lunch with Vicki and a different David as well as the same David from Saturday so dinner may well be a cold collation lunch was at St John so bought bread to go with parma ham and mozzarella, wow. Monday might do cheesey peas risotto with wild mushrooms and some cooked ham from the freezer as well as hock stock so an intensely flavoured supper that made for a fine lunch, Tuesday we are out to see Michael Clark, Wednesday is my birthday which I'm spending at Billingsgate Fish Market learning more about fish, particularly sustainable fishing, so dinner will be steaks at home as I do love a good steak and I particularly like t-bone steak with a very small salad. Thursday there may be a little left over so it will be lovely with noodles I had a sea bass from Billinsgate so baked it whole with chilli and ginger and we ate it with basmati and spinach sesame salad after fireworks in the park. Friday something simple, probably eggy, more than likely omelette - but then I do love omelette. And eggs. And noodles - will have the last of the steak with noodle salad.

Cold, wet, nasty. Welcome to autumn. The market was quietish early on, so that at least was an upside. Started at Ginger Pig where it turns out Nathan is on his way to Oz for three weeks, to visit family and go to his brother's wedding. He will probably pass Charlie at the airport on his way back. Got the stamp of approval for my choice of t-bone for birthday treat and it was indeed but as I had a lovely wild sea bass from Billingsgate I decided to only cook one steak and share and put the other in the freezer for another very special evening, which with a jar of polish horseradish came to £32.90. Yum.

At Booths needed salad so bought rocket and cucumber as well as garlic, tangerines and sugar snaps for £4.50

At Wild Beef I bought a pack of their fabulous skinny beef sausages Saturday supper, eggs and a packet of oatmeal breakfast raw in the week and porridge on cold Sundays - £7.50

From L'Artisan du Chocolat I bought 3 packs of chocolates as the office treat for my birthday as I shan't have time to cook - £6

Bought nothing but did discover finally where the turkish olive stall is now located across from the chocolate stall so that is very good news, though Chegworth seem to have disappeared, which is very sad

A serious chunk of Parmesan from Gastronomica which remains as a stall not a shop - £6.50
Mozzarella and parma ham Sunday night from the Italian stall - £10.70

A steak pie for the man's lunch from Elizabeth King - £2.50

Milk and pasta from Neals Yard - £6.70

So spent a fairly hefty £77.30 but it's a week for treats. Also bought bread from St John, spinach, noodles, tofu, coriander, spring onions.

New York next week - lucky us! - so no blog ...

Zigni - Ethiopian Spiced Beef

One of the many things I enjoy about Food Chain is trying new foods and new recipes, a curiosity that is shared by all the volunteers who last more than one shift. It's interesting to taste new dishes and combinations, to find dishes I've never heard of or eaten. One of the sites I frequent for inspiration is which is a rich source of African recipes and information. I spent a delighted hour or more reading the first time I found it and I have visited many times since and learned a lot in the process. It's where the spice mix came from for this deeply aromatic and hot beef stew, a completely different kind of hot to Asian or Indian cuisine, quite complex and warming.

Berberé (pronounced 'ber-beray') is an Ethiopian spice mixture that is the flavoring foundation of Ethiopian cuisine, a basic ingredient in Dabo Kolo, Doro Wat, and many other dishes. It's traditionally made from a cupboard-full of herbs and spices, fresh-ground, pan-roasted and then packed into jars for storage. Among Ethiopian cooks there are many variations of which spices and what amounts but basic berberé is made by combining roughly equal amounts of allspice, cardamom, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, black pepper, and salt with a much larger amount of hot red (cayenne) pepper. The combination of fenugreek and red pepper is essential to berberé; while one or two of the other ingredients may be left out, the fenugreek and red pepper are must-haves. Milder berberé can be made by substituting paprika for some or most of the red pepper. Berberé is sometimes made as a dry spice mix, and is sometimes made with oil or water to form a paste

I made this one mixing ready ground spices then cooking it gently till aromatic. These quantities makes more than you need for this recipe but it keeps well in an airtight jar.


500g stewing beef, in cubes
3 tbspns vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can tomatoes, with liquid
salt, pepper
fresh coriander chopped

Berberé pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons ground cayenne or chilli pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For the berberé, combine the spices and roast in a dry skillet on low to moderate heat, stirring constantly, for about 5-10 minutes, or until roasted. Don't let them burn. Keep in a tight jar.
For the stew, fry the meat on high heat until brown, then add the onion, and eventually the garlic and 2 tbsp Berbere, which are NOT to become burnt.

Add the tomatoes with their liquid and boil slowly until the meat is tender and the stew has thickened, about an hour.

Garnish with coriander and serve hot on rice.

This made plenty for four servings with rice and spicy plantains but, like all stews, is better next day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

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

Need a simple thing for Saturday supper, sausage and mash perhaps went to Brixton Market Friday night looking for african ingredients and bought some cheap peppers that I roasted and mixed with borlotti beans so we had them with chorizo and rocket, with peas and ketchup, after a lot of the day sorting Food Chain. Sunday needs an easy finish therefore, so roast methinks had some lamb burgers leftover from food chain so that was easier still!. Monday need some noodles for a change roast beef with dauphinois potatoes and peas, Tuesday I fancy risotto had rice but with ma po tofu, Wednesday might have the rest of the catalan balls with some mash after class fabulous penne with porcini and leeks, Thursday I am hankering for pork chops or maybe lentils made a very spiced ethiopian beef stew with spicy plantain as the plantain on Sunday was a big hit at Tooting but mine was nowhere near as good as the one Emilia made, the beef though was really good. Friday, omelette I think.

Raining. Not pouring but wet, drizzly, vaguely muggy was the downside of Saturday morning first thing at Borough, but it kept the crowds away, so yay! for that. At the Ginger Pig I bought a serious piece of topside to roast Monday night and lunches for a few days - £14.70

Ran across the road to Monmouth for coffee my daily start - £10

At Booths, I bought potatoes, red onions for the roast, sugarsnap peas lunches and garlic for £4

From Wild Beef I bought eggs Friday omelette £1.50

At Teds Veg I bought leeks lovely pasta Wednesday and rocket Saturday supper - £3.85

Smoked salmon brunch from the Isle of Mull - £5

Milk and apples from Neals Yard - £4.70

And that was it for Borough - a mere £43.75 but also bought tofu and noodles, peppers to roast, bread from St John as it is some of the nicest bread I've ever eaten and it's for sale round the corner from work as well as butter and biscuits and roasted almonds

Cauliflower & Pasta Cheese Bake

Thursday night I had lots of cheese in the fridge and half a cauliflower, amongst other things, but they were the things that I wanted to use up. Cauliflower cheese was the obvious solution but I don't feel it's actually a main dish in its own right, not quite substantial enough or something. I toyed with the idea of crusty bread and salad as accompaniment but it still felt a bit wrong. Then I decided that some penne, about the same amount in bulk as the cauliflower, might give it sufficient oomph to be a proper mid week dinner. Not entirely certain, I cooked the penne, then the florets and finally the cheese sauce in sequence in the same pan - less washing up - and then baked it in a pyrex casserole. Served with chicory salad, I could not have wished for a finer supper.

Cauliflower & Pasta Cheese Bake
150g penne
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into floret
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tspn ground cumin
25g unsalted butter
1 tbspn plain flour
600ml whole milk
1/2 tspn fresh ground nutmeg
150g grated Caerphilly - or other hard cheese

Cook the penne in lots of boiling salted water till just al dente. Drain and rinse.

Cook the cauliflower in lots of boiling salted water till just tender - you don't want mush! - about 10 minutes. Drain and mix with the pasta.

Melt the butter in the pan over a gentle heat and add the cumin, garlic and onion. Stir occasionally and continue cooking till the onion is translucent - about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to make a paste. Cook for a few minutes till it takes on a biscuity colour.

Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, till you have the consistency of double cream. Grate in the nutmeg, increase the heat and stir in all but a tablespoon of the cheese till it melts. Check the seasoning.

Put the pasta and cauliflower into a casserole and pour the cheese sauce over. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and the reserved grated cheese. Bake in a moderate oven, Gas4, for 25 minutes till golden and bubbling.

Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving in big bowls.

Sometimes simple is good.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tarka Dal

Food chain weekends are a total change in routine. The kitchen we use is based in Tooting, south east London, home to a large Indian community and a fabulous high street and market selling largely Indian and Pakistani foodstuffs and a string of restaurants doing the same. It's a real treat once our kitchen is sorted on a Saturday to try out some of the myriad of delights on offer. Often I go to Lahore and buy a few of their bhaji and samosa and kebab and the man and I sit in the garden of the community centre in the sun and have ourselves a fine picnic. When the weather is less welcoming we try out one of the multitude of restaurants.
And so it was a few months ago that we found ourselves in a small but busy restaurant on Tooting High Street. I ordered a few random things, including tarka dal. All the food that arrived was good - fresh and spicy and hot. But it only took one mouthful of the dal to fall in love. Rich and complex and much more textured than the dal I normally make, it wowoed me with it's fabulousness. Besotted, instantly.

So then I was on a mission to find a recipe so I could have some whenever I wanted. Miss Greedy Pants that I am. I tried a couple of versions for nothing but disappointment. Then, browsing an Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, which I can buy round the corner for 75pence, I came across a reader request for tarka dal eaten somewhere in Melbourne. Quick perusal of the recipe and it sounded plausible. Had to give it a go.

Bought a packet of the required dried chana dal, which looks for all the world like yellow split peas but they are in fact much more closely related to the chick pea. Chana dal is younger, smaller, split, sweeter and has a much lower glycemic index than chick peas but otherwise similar. It is not another version of yellow split peas. This is crucial information - only I didn't know it at the time!

When I normally make dal I use red split peas and they cook down to a lovely porridgey sludge in about 30-40 minutes without soaking. When I cook with chickpeas I soak them and then cook them for an hour or so till they are tender, but still resolutely whole. With this dish, and the instructions given, I was expecting the former but was quite distressed to find it was much closer to the latter. I had no other plan for supper Thusday night and nothing much to rustle up in an emergency. So when the chana dal was softened but still whole like crushed gravel after more than an hour I let it simmer away for another half hour. Nothing much changed except we'd gone beyond hunger to that place where it seems easier to wait till breakfast.

Stuck a lid on the pan and let it cool down overnight and fridged it next morning. Did a little investigating on the web next day to discover the above, previously unknown, information. Most versions of cooking tarka dal process the chana once they are tender but still whole, about 40 minutes in. Then they add the additional elements before serving. My way worked out okay too - the residual heat had collapsed the chana down more in the night and heating it through next day before adding the cream was enough to make a really brilliant supper.
And only one day late.

Tarka Dal

400 gm chana split lentils
60 ml vegetable oil
1½ tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cm piece ginger (10gm), finely grated
10 curry leaves, fresh if you can find them
2 onions, finely chopped
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, finely chopped
35 gm (¼ cup) raw cashews, finely ground
1½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp each garam masala and ground chilli
½ tsp ground coriander
45 gm ghee
125 ml pouring cream
3 long green chillies, halved lengthways (optional)
To serve coarsely chopped coriander

Rinse lentils in cold water till it rins clear then soak them for 30 minutes. Drain.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add half the mustard seeds and half the cumin seeds and stir for a minute until they start to pop.
Add garlic, ginger, curry leaves and half the onion, stir occasionally until soft (7-10 minutes).

Add tomato, cashews, turmeric, garam marsala, ground chilli, coriander and 125ml water and stir occasionally until thick (3-5 minutes).

Add lentils and enough water to cover (about 1.6 litres), bring to the boil, reduce heat to low and stir occasionally for 40-45 minutes. When the lentils are tender to bite into, process briefly with an electric blender stick.

Heat ghee in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add remaining spices and stir occasionally until fragrant. Add remaining onion, stir occasionally until golden (15-20 minutes).

Stir onion mixture through lentils, add cream and chilli if using, bring to the boil, season to taste and serve immediately scattered with coriander.

My way was to add the extra onions and spices and let it all cool down together, and then it had all softened sufficiently to be fabulous next day. This recipe made a lot - we had it with paratha one night then as spiced accompaniment to roast lamb and cold in lunchboxes with the rest of the lamb.

Seriously recommend it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

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

We are out Saturday afternoon to see Endgame a bleak, funny desolate production, so may need something cheering in the evening. If the tarka dal turns out to be good tonight (Friday) then I think it will be good cold with roast spiced lamb that turned out beautifully, roasted it with onions and carrots and had a side dish of roasted cauliflower and some baba ganoush, which will make for tasty lunchboxes for a day or two. Sunday is meant to be sunny and a walk in Cookham Wood is planned with lunch at a pub called the Jolly Farmer, which, if it comes to pass, will be a most delightful Sunday with something simple for dinner in case we're too exhausted for complicated - didn't quite make the walk to Cookham but still had a simple supper of duck fat toast topped with rocket, piquillo peppers and fried eggs. Monday we are at the theatre again for Enron, Tuesday I am delighted to have my friends Adrienne and Harold over for dinner, as they are here for a short while from Mauritius. Planning paella with pork and spinach and a plate of tasty cheese to follow - actually had a big platter of Italian cured meats and olives followed by pasta with buffalo mozzarella and finished with cheese and chocolates for one version of a perfect week night supper. Wednesday is french, so hopefully there will be the last of the rice from Tuesday to finish - had the wurst I bought last week with salad and bread which I really liked but the man, though generally a sausage lover, is less convinced by wurst. Thursday might need to have pasta bake to use the last of the basil from our summer plants had pasta and cauliflower bake to be frugal and use the half cauliflower and the rest of the caerphilly served with bitter leaf chicory salad, just lovely and Friday the german sausages we didn't eat this week - had them already so its omelette and salad for simplicity.

Definitely getting cooler stood waiting for the bus to market, nippy little breeze prompting buttoning of jackets and wondering when scarves and gloves will reappear. Borough was fairly civilised numbers wise first thing Saturday so it was easy to get about. At Ginger Pig Charlie was off that night to Sydney where the sun is shining and the temperature's rising. Lucky thing! Bought a lovely leg of lamb for dinner and lunch boxes - £14.70 - and wished him bon voyage.

Had a crisis of confidence about paella Tuesday so decided to do baked pasta with salad instead but the rocket at Booths was on its last legs so bought chicory, potatoes and red onions for £3.30

Eggs from Wild Beef for £1.50

Cauliflower and a small bunch of rocket from Teds Veg £1.70

Chocolates from L'Artisan - £2

Olives from the Fresh Olive Company, where the woman ahead of me had bought a large tub of her favourites, then, seeing me buy the melange of big green ones, tried one and had a tub of those too! - Mine cost £3.50

Parma ham and mozzarella from the Italian stall who are now over in the green market and apparently have a different site each time they set up - £11

Truffle cheese from Gastronomica, who still have no shop - £9

Milk and pasta from Neals Yard - £6.90

Bread and a chocolate brownie from Flour Power - £3.20

That's all this week from the market - a reasonable £53.50 but there is more to buy, bread from St John, ham and salami and tinned tomatoes and rocket if I can find it in the local shop as ours in the garden has packed up for the winter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Catalan Meatballs

I can't say I really know what makes these balls Catalan, though it's possibly something to do with the spiced complexity of the sauce. The balls themselves are a mix of beef and pork, with serious quantities of garlic and parsley bound together with beaten eggs. So far so fabulous. Roll them in flour and fry them off in some oil and you have a plate of golden crusted juicy morsels. Mushrooms, tomatoes, fat green olives and lardon simmer in red wine with nutmeg and cinnamon and hot smoked paprika, then the balls go back in. An hour later you have a stunningly good autumn supper, the lovely balls afloat in a richly textured sauce made thick and glossy. It is the spicing that is the joy and the mystery though, and seriously the reason you should make this lovely dish.

This recipe comes from a website but I know not which. I copied it and omitted to add the URL and searching for it again on google got me nowhere. Which is unfortunate as there's probably other recipes there and, if this one is anything to go by, they'd be wonderful.

Catalan Meatballs

250 g beef mince
500 g pork mince
6 cloves garlic
2 shallots, chopped
8 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
2 eggs
2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoon flour
4 tablespoon olive oil (to fry)

150 g salt pork belly, diced
2 tbspns olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbspn plain flour
200g field mushrooms, sliced
500 ml full bodied red wine
400g tin tomatoes
1/2 tbspn hot smoked paprika
200 g pitted green olives, halved
1/2 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon

Crush the garlic cloves lightly, then chop with the parsley. Place in large mixing bowl with the meats and shallots. Beat the eggs lightly and add to the bowl; mix well, using your hands, and shape into oval balls, the size of a small egg. Roll these in flour, shaking off any excess.

Heat the oil in a large pan. Brown meatballs on all sides over moderately high heat, turning frequently. You might need to do them in batches if your pan isn't big enough to take them all in a single layer.

While they are cooking, cut the pork belly (or bacon) into small dice. Chop the onion finely.

When the meatballs are browned, (don't overdo this, they have yet to be cooked through), remove them from the oil and drain on kitchen towels.

Add the diced pork belly or bacon to the oil left after frying, and brown lightly all over. Sprinkle in a little more flour to absorb some of the fat, add the onion and mushrooms and cook until lightly browned, 15 or 20 minutes. Stir in wine, and continue stirring as the sauce comes to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes then season with pepper and a little salt, stir in the tomato, the spices and olives. Finally add the meatballs - the liquid should half cover them, but add water or a little more wine if necessary.

Simmer gently 45 minutes, turning the meatballs after the first 20 minutes cooking.

This made enough for 6 servings. We had it in deep bowls with rice Monday night, again for a quick supper Wednesday and there's one in the freezer for another time. Bliss.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I wanted...I bought...I had

Because he is Mr Spratt to my Mrs, I shall ask the man to choose dinner Saturday night. He thinks in a different way to me - his hankerings tend towards things I would not necessarily have thought of. Last week, for example, I was thinking lamb chops and he was thinking fish and pilau rice and so we had scallops with the rice. And he was right. It was delightful. We had mussels with chilli and coriander and black beans with some cheese to finish - lovely! Sunday we are out, might make noodle salad for supper - could not have eaten a thing after such a magnificent lunch but I had marinated some chicken pieces so I cooked them for lunchboxes. Monday I would like to try some catalan meatballs, Tuesday I am out at least for a while so meat pies, seriously yum might be the ready meal of choice, Wednesday will be pasta some more of the balls but served over mash, Thursday some dal which didn't work out so went to bed hungry! and Friday may well be sausages will be the dal resurrected.
We were a wee bit late setting off this week and arrived to find Borough Market busier than usual. Can only imagine what hell it is by noon. At the Ginger Pig I bought some chicken pieces roasted with honey and soy and eaten for lunches for a couple of days with cold rice, radishes and cucumber and some beef mince half into catalan balls and half into freezer- £12.70

Then I ran across the road to Monmouth for coffee as they no longer have a stall inside the market, despite the fact that they have been there since the very beginning, so the queues are longer and slower. Bought some dark roasted Colombian - £10
Couldn't resist some smoked salmon for breakfast- £5

Lardon for balls sauce from Brindisa in a little tub - £2.75

At Booths I wanted cucumber lunches, fresh mushrooms meatball sauce and was then tempted by dried wild mushrooms pantry, a bright bunch of radishes lunches, another of parsley meatballs and some shallots meant for meatballs but I forgot them so they await their fate in the vegetable rack - £11.80

Mussels from shellseekers for the man's desired Saturday supper - £4.50

Eggs into meatballs from a busy Lizzie at Wild Beef - £1.50

Olives for the meatball sauce from Fresh Olive company, thinking of the lovely Marie that I haven't seen for a while now that she's a country lass - £3.50

Perfect cheeses our contribution to lunch Sunday from Gastronomica, who are still running a little stall instead of their shop due to some ongoing fit out problem, a sizeable hunk of truffle cheese and a robiola, firmer than usual as the milk strikes in Italy means they were being made over 21 days rather than 7 - £19 for both

Had a lovely chat with Ian at Mrs Elizabeth King's pie stall about the way his business has grown over the last decade. He was telling me they only bake Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as pies tend to be a weekend treat and they have constructed their business accordingly. I said it must smell wonderful when the ovens are going full blast and he laughed and said he went to the dentist straight from the bakery one day and, as he was lying on the dentist's chair she examined his teeth and he could hear her sniffing appreciatively behind her mask. Loved the idea! Bought a pork pie Saturday lunch and a couple of pies to have hot Tuesday night- £10

Then to Neals Yard, where they were selling huge hunks of caerphilly for £5 so had to have one, obviously, have nibbled on it and am thinking it will make a lovely cheese sauce as well as milk, cream and apples, since there is still no sign of Chegworth or indeed the Turkish olives, spent £12.90

So a big spend this week - £93.65 - and also bought oil to make spiced oil, oranges, onions, coriander, egg noodles and channa dal, so not a cheap week at all.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Spinach Sesame Salad

Sssssssssssso good this sibilant salad. Loving last week's baked tofu we fancied it again this week (some times it's hard to be original) and I was sure this kind of japanesey spinach dish would work a treat with it. I've eaten it a few times at various restaurants and was always taken with it so I googled for it and came up with a few differing versions that all had in common cooking the spinach in boiling water for a minute, then soaking the leaves in cold water till they were cool enough to handle. I NEVER cook spinach like that to the point that I was convinced the leaves would simply disintegrate after 20 seconds. Or at the very least turn to a slimy mush. Amazing how wrong you can be.

Normally I simply warm oil in the bottom of a big pan, wash the leaves thoroughly then wilt them in the hot pan with a lid, resulting in lovely velvety little mountain of leaves, needing nothing more than a grind of pepper or perhaps nutmeg. Cooking them in a big pan of water actually made them a little more substantial in texture with none of the silkiness that comes from steaming them. Which was a perfect vehicle, once squeezed and chopped, for the sesame sauce, a fairly substantial thing in its own right. The Japanese certainly know a thing or two about cooking.

Spinach Sesame Salad

500g fresh spinach, washed and destalked
4 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp sake
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

Bring plenty of water in a large pot to the boil over a high heat. Add the spinach to the boiling water for about one minute. Drain into a colander and soak the spinach in the colander in cold water until cool. Drain and squeeze the spinach to remove the excess liquid. Cut spinach into thick ribbons and set aside.

Heat a small frypan over a gentle heat and add the sesame seeds. Stir them often to stop them burning and cook till just golden. Tip the toasted seeds into a blender or food processor, allow them to cool and then grind until smooth. Add sugar and mix well. Add soy sauce and sake and mix until combined. Dress the boiled spinach with the paste and serve.

We had it with some tofu I had pressed for longer and then marinated all day which cooked into a slightly crisper topping with creamy insides and basmati rice for a very satisfying and elegant supper for a Monday night.

Friday, October 02, 2009

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

We have some lamb chops in the freezer and I think they might be the perfect Saturday night special with new potatoes and wilted spinach and one night they will be but not yet! We had scallops and bacon threaded onto rosemary sticks and chargrilled with pilau rice for serious wow. Sunday I would like a roast, probably that lovely pork leg I've been dreaming of slow roasted with fennel and chilli and served up with crisp potatoes and brussel sprouts. Monday has to be vegetarian really, baked tofu, sesame spinach and rice, light and elegant after a meaty weekend, might do some noodles again as they were lovely last week, and easy peasy. Tuesday we're out to see Annie Get Your Gun, Wednesday is french so quick pasta after quick noodles in fact, Thursday out again but much to my disappointment couldn't get a table at the Anchor & Hope so home for spinach omelette and duck fat toast and Friday sausage sarnies I think beef burgers and carrot and fennel salad for easy and yummy and because I forgot to buy any sausages....

Borough was very busy with tourists first thing - they must be finding it a bit odd with half the market boarded off. It still feels like there's bits missing though Maria's cafe is back, facing the opposite direction to the way it used to. Started at Ginger Pig where the wind was howling straight into the shop now the layout was changed in the summer - could be a long old winter for my favourite butchers. I had the absolute intention of having that pork leg on the bone to be roasted slowly - ended up with a serious piece of meat cut for me and scored for crackling - and it was perfect roasted on Sunday and then cold all week in lunchboxes with veg or in crusty bread, everything I'd been dreaming of really - £17.40 - and service with a smile, as ever

Then to Booths for some potatoes, though there were no yukon gold this week so bought some King Edwards, as well as the first brussel sprouts for this winter and a big old swede so Sunday dinner was sorted! for £3

From Shellseekers I bought diver caught scallops on the half shell for a change in the Saturday night special - £8.40

From Wild Beef I bought eggs for spinach omelette Thursday night- £1.50

Then searched for the new gastronomica shop, intent on having salami sandwich for lunch, but it was not yet up and running so had a lovely chat to Ian at Mrs Elizabeth King stand and bought two of his fabulous pies , steak for me and steak & kidney for the man for a hot pie lunch to match the weather - £5

Then to Neals Yard for milk, including a pint of full fat to make porridge Sunday as the wind was really shivery what woosses we are but in the end we had hot bacon sandwiches to use the rest of the bacon from Saturday night, and some apples for lunchboxes as there is still no Chegworth to be found - £5.90

That was all this week - had already bought a loaf of bread Friday from the superlative bakery at St John - so spent £41.20 - not bad at all. But I went to Brixton Sunday and spent another £20 on rice, noodles, tofu, spinach, ginger, chillies, black beans and other bits that needed replenishing

Baked Marinated Tofu

Lots of people turn their nose up at tofu which seems a particularly irrational response to this lovely silky stuff that gives you an almost blank canvas on which to paint flavour. It is a delightful texture in your mouth and with little distinct flavour of its own, it soaks up others witht the gusto of a sponge. It's givesthe cook an interesting opportunity to create something new. I have been using it for a while, mostly in chinese dishes, and quickly learned how to prepare it without it breaking up into little nibbets. (Best way is slide cubes of tofu into a bowl of hot salted water and leave for 20 minutes or so and it firms up a treat.) My favourite tofu dish is probably ma po, which I make frequently and never tire of. Reeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally love it to the point it that it would be a contender for last meal.

On Saturday I was in Brixton and popped into the chinese shop on Electric Avenue for some noodles and couldn't resist a block of tofu, planning without even thinking about it to have me some ma po in the week. But then I did get to thinking, and started to wonder about baking it in squares, instructions for which are easy to find with a google search. Given its propensity to soak up flavour it seemed like a good idea. And the man, being the adventurous type who will try anything once, seemed intrigued.

Though not as good as ma po it was decidedly fab and will be on the menu again.

Baked Marinated Tofu

400g block of firm tofu - it must be firm not silken
1/3 cup light soy sauce
3/4 cup water
2 tbspns finely chopped ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tspn chilli flakes
2 tbspn sesame oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tbspn sesame seeds

Cut the block of tofu into 8 squares. Lay 3 or 4 sheets of kitchen paper on the bench. Put the tofu on top then cover with 3 or 4 more sheets of kitchen paper. Put a heavy chopping board on top and leave for half an hour or so to sqeeze out some moisture.

Mix all the marinade ingredients, except the spring onions and sesame seeds, in a largish bowl and add the tofu. Spoon the liquid over then leave to steep for at least an hour, turning the pieces occasionally so they are all well flavoured.

Pre heat the oven to Gas 4/375F/190C. Lightly oil a flat baking sheet then carefully add the pieces of tofu. Bake for 30 minutes, basting occasionally. Sprinkle the sesame seeds across the top and cook for another 15 minutes.

Serve with steamed rice, sprinkled with spring onions and the rest of the marinade, strained into a little bowl on the side.

Very very good.