Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Saturday night I finally cooked my very first grouse. It was also my very first taste of this lovely bird. The man collected them from Charlie at the Ginger Pig Friday. Resisiting the temptation to cook immediately I lay the little beauties on a plate.

And tucked them into the fridge overnight.

I went through lots of suggestions and recipes and initially led astray by the idea of red wine sauce. Finally settled on simple is best. I unbaconed them, removed their hearts and livers, and dusted with flour. Sprig of thyme and a knob of butter in the cavity.

The innards I poached briefly in a small amount of chicken stock. The bacon I chopped and put into a roasting pan with a serious knob of butter. Pan into hot oven - Gas 7 - till bubbling. Add birds, drench with hot fat, roast for 10 minutes.

Baste again with hot fat, roast another ten minutes. Remove birds to a warm plate and let rest, covered with foil, for another ten minutes. Make toast. Drain most of the fat from the roasting pan and add the hearts and livers, mashing them into the bacony juices.

Dance the birdies onto plates. Spread toast with the livers and juices mash. Insert bunch of fresh washed watercress into fundament. Add side of creamed cabbage with (more) bacon. Because you can never have too much bacon.

My first ever grouse dinner is served. Brilliant thing - and a worthy meal to match my excitement at the prospect.

No idea why I waited so long.

Oaty Apple Slice

Have been with the man for a long time now - loving every minute obv - but it surprises me that still, sometimes, we are entirely foreign to each other. On the weekend I bought some lovely Bramleys from Chegworth with the intention of making apple pie with a cheddar crust, and then when that idea was abandoned, a repeat on the lovely apple and blackberry duff. Monday night, when I got home, didn't fancy the faff of doing either. I have plenty of Flanahans Irish Porridge Oats from the Bord Bia evening at the Irish Embassy and thought they would make a very good - and much simpler - combination with the apples. Decided to make a slice.

Peeled and sliced the apples and mixed them liberally with cinnamon, mixed the luscious oats with flour, melted butter and brown sugar and added it to the dry ingredients. So far so good. Then I asked the man to get the slice tin out for me. Complete incomprehension, total and utter bewilderment. Not a clue. 'You don't have slices in this country?' As soon as I said it I knew it was true. In the twenty five years I have been in this country there has not been a single slice.

They are a quintessential Australian delight, passed down from generation unto generation, added to packed lunches and made fresh to serve up for afternoon tea, served with tea every time. My aunt used to make a lovely one with a biscuity buttery base topped with apricot jam topped with coconut. My mother made a fabulous one with dates and chocolate. My entire childhood was punctuated with these treats and yet my sweetheart had no inkling.

It's difficult to explain them really. They are not cake and they are not biscuit but a kind of halfway house between the two. The mix is made and then flattened out to line the base of a slice tin - a rectangular baking pan that is usually 18x32cm and about 2 cm deep and is also known as a lamington pan but only to those who know what a lamington is - then baked and cooled in the tray before cutting into, well, slices. The beauty of a slice is that it is not as ostentatious as baking a cake for visitors, yet it says you've made so much more of an effort than just knocking up a batch of biscuits. Final rule of oz etiquette - you offer them round as a piece of slice, not a slice of slice. Obv.
I told him all this and he was amazed. A new sweet treat for my cakey pig.

Oaty Apple Slice

Makes 20 pieces

150g porridge oats
275g plain flour
1 tspn salt
110g light brown sugar
225g unsalted butter
2 cooking apples, weighing about 450g before peeling
1 tspn cinnamon
2 tspn golden caster sugar

In a large bowl mix the oats, flour and salt. In a small saucepan melt the butter and sugar together till thoroughly combined and foamy. Add the hot butter to the dry ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon.

Peel, core and quarter the apples, slice thinly - no thicker than a pound coin - and mix with the cinnamon and caster sugar.

Line a slice/lamington/rectangular baking tray with parchment. Put half the oat mix into the base and press it out to cover the whole base. Top the oat mix with an even layer of the sliced apples. Top the apples with the rest of the oats, again pressing it out evenly to cover the fruit.

Bake in a Gas 4/200C/375F oven for 25-30 minutes till the top is golden all over.

Cool in the tin on a rack then slice into rectangles.

Next time you fancy a cuppa grab yourself a piece of slice!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stir fry beans and pork balls

Last Friday Quadrille kindly sent me a copy of Real Food From Near and Far - Stevie Parle's book in their series New Voices in Food. It's a lovely looking book - buff covers and beautiful illustrations and a utilitarian feel to it makes me think it is a practical tome to have in the kitchen when the temperature rises. It is meant to be cooked from as well as devoured.

The timing of its arrival was fortuitous. I had made my usual rough outline for a menu for the upcoming week, deciding to go for grouse Saturday night rather than Friday, and a fair variety of things filling the rest of the week. But I had no definitive plan for either Friday night or what to do with the next lot of beans on the wigwam in the garden. What is appealing about Real Food is that it is not only divided into the months of the year with recipes themed around what is abundant but the inspiration for the food comes from all round the world, placing British ingredients into a much broader context, which is the way I love to cook.

A quick flick to August reveals beans and myriad ways to use them. I contemplated the salad with rocket and Parmesan but had nothing to go with it, having even run out of eggs last week. I did have some bean curd puffs in the fridge and little packets of pork mince so the Chinese delight of beans and pork beckoned needing only a minor tweak or two to accomodate the stuff I had to use.

Szechuan beans with little bits of pork

In Szechuan they use yard long beans for this dish. We don't often find those here, though you can grow them.

Serves 4-6

green beans, tops cut off, 250g

garlic cloves, green sprout removed, 1

anise seeds, 1 tsp

dried chilli, 1 tsp

szechuan pepper, 1/2 tsp

minced pork shoulder or belly, 80g

tofu puffs, 6-7, each cut in half

flavourless oil, a splash

fresh root ginger, grated, 5cm

rice wine vinegar, a splash

Chop the beans a bit. Crush the garlic in a mortar, add the spices and crush them until they become a paste, then mix this well with the pork. Roll the pork into little bits about the size of a marble.

Heat a large pan or wok and pour in the oil. Put in the little bits of pork and fry them, mixing. When they start to turn a little crispy, add the tofu, stir for a minute then throw in the beans and the ginger. Fry until the beans start to look cooked, splash in a bit of vinegar, reduce the heat and cook until the beans are soft.

Adding the garlic and spices to the pork was good and the end result was a great mouthful of crispy meat, crunchy beans and slightly spongy tofu. Recommend.

Friday, August 20, 2010

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

There will be grouse! The man is collecting them today - Friday - and we shall have them either tonight or tomorrow - thinking probably tomorrow as it will be more leisurely and so more enjoyable. Saturday very special they were. But I don't know if I can wait! He also bought a new tin of olive oil so had spent £50 in one quick trip.

Sunday I think the paella we didn't have last week with some left for lunches. Monday I fancy beef stroganoff - literally years since I made it and it used to be my absolute go to favourite dinner but had some zigni from the freezer with herbed couscous and cabbage. Tuesday cheesy pasta bake with some of the cheese sauce from the freezer, quite fancy broccoli - went to the Canton Arms instead. Wednesday viet rice paper parcels and hot cabbage salad pasta bake with cauliflower and it was amazing, Thursday noodles and Friday omelette and salad.

Saturday was bleakish and quiet at the market. Started at the Ginger Pig where Charlie gave me a few more clues about my grouse - it was his post about them which I found really detailed so that gave me the confidence to cook grouse for the first time. Everything else I'd read starts with 'oven ready birds' and not knowing what that is had made me wary. Bought some bacon on toast for breakfast after the market and with cabbage for dinner and a slice of pork steak into the paella Sunday for the very reasonable price of £2

Then to Booths, my last visit as they move out next weekend, and bought carrots, garlic, nectarines and a cauliflower - £4.40

Eggs and sausages for the freezer as it seems wrong to have no sausages from Lizzie at Wild Beef - £5.30

From Chegworth I bought apples - both cooking for oat slice and eating, an enormous lettuce salad Wednesday night and a punnet of apricots - £4.80

At Gastronomica they had one piece of Bra left - and the man does love Bra - a snip at £5

From Teds Veg I bought potatoes to mash with pie and peas Thursday for £1.90

A scoop of avocadoes on rye for lunch Saturday and, sadly, the rest binned as they didin't last but still almost a bargain £1

Olives from Turkish olives, tried the cheese stuffed ones but bought the chilli stuffed ones - £4.30

Was delighted to see Ian at Mrs Kings Pork Pies - his son runs the stall most weeks now so it was good to catch up with a chat. Turns out he has been concentrating on developing some new ideas for new pies - what joy that notion brings to my soul! There will be more on that in a couple of weeks - in the meantime I bought a steak pie as the man has a steak and kidney pie in the freezer and I'm thinking pie & mash would be a lovely thing this week - £3

Coffee from Monmouth - £11.50

Milk, cream and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £6.60

So spent a massive £99.80 - a lot. But the oil will last for months and the grouse were sublime as well as a thoroughly British event.
Next week is holiday week so eat well and I shall return anon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Steamed or Baked Whole Camembert

A few months ago I read on a website somewhere about the perfect way to serve hot camembert. I was intrigued as it is an occasional treat - definitely a dish for two and one that should be shared in a sensuous sort of way. You must eat with your hands, scooping runnels of cheese onto hunks of bread, adding sprigs of rocket at the moment you bite to add a prickle of heat and resistance against the rich buttery warmth of the cheese. A truly great Friday night treat.
It is simplicity itself to make. First - and this is important - buy one that comes in a little box made with thin strips of wood (balsa wood I think but I'm not htat technically knowledgeable), rather than plastic coated board. You will avoid disaster before you have begun.
Second, unwrap the cheese and make a number of little slits across the top with a sharp knife. Peel a small clove of garlic and cut into tiny slivers. Insert the slivers into the cheese via the tiny holes you have dotted across the top, being sure to push them in deep. Drizzle a tablespoon of white wine across the top, put the cheese back into the box and replace the lid.
Place the cheese onto a flat baking tray - another potential disaster avoided - and cook in a moderate oven - 180C/350F for about fifteen minutes. The cheese is transformed into a decadent thing - thick hot creamy and subtly flavoured with garlic. I have made this a couple of times and it seemed impossible for it to be better.
But I was wrong.
Last Friday I had all the requisite elements assembled when I had a sudden urge to steam it rather than bake it. I am using the steam oven a lot, often for simple delights like beans fresh picked from the garden or an absolute favourite silken tofu but not for anything that should be baked. But why not?
Into the steam oven for 15 minutes at 100C and the tray emerged bearing a positively molten cheese, undulating voluptuosly like a just abandoned water bed. Wow. It was subtly but definitely better than baking it, the heart of it more moist and the skin was softer, more tender to the bite.
Possibly the ultimate dinner à deux.

Friday, August 13, 2010

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

Saturday will be grilled pork chops and salad, Sunday will be roast, possbibly the beef of old England drunken chicken and sweet and sour cucumber for a delicate repast that made for grreat lunches with sesame noodles, Monday will be salad and jam roly poly diary was wrong theatre was Monday but I realised in time, Tuesday we are at the theatre splendid salad composé with friton and gesier and duck fat potatoes topped with a poached egg, Wednesday pork paella vegetable curry with paratha, Thursday something with bean curd sheets or fermented bean curd, both nestling in my cupboard crying out to be used they will be but bought lamb chops at the new market in Broadgate and they were perfect with new potatoes and rocket salad. Friday noodles perhaps more likely bean curd three ways!.

We were early and the market was quiet but the stalls were all set up. The Rabot chocolate shop was closed - you can tell it's a chain - opens at 9 and not before. Charlie was cheerful at the Ginger Pig, told me they may have grouse in on Thursday so I'll snaffle two if they arrive. they have and that's a big excitement as I've never cooked them before. In the meantime I bought a chicken drunken chicken Sunday and lunches all week and one pork chop - had one in the freezer and it is my mission to be using what I have - together they made a good Saturday dinner. £18.85

Then to Chegworth as they are selling some vegetables as well as apples - bought a sweetheart cabbage either creamed with bacon with grouse or into chinese hot pot Friday night, new potatoes some steamed with pork chops Saturday but I am beginning to think they don't really steam well, certainly I've never done it successfully and the rest I fried in duck fat very successfully for dinner Tuesday, tiny zucchinis made a bright curry with carrots Wednessday night and apples lunches - £4.45 - which pretty much covers all I'll need as there is plenty in the garden at the moment

Eggs from Wild Beef - £1.50 - where Lizzie had a vase of sweet peas on her stall - perfect summer flowers and the man made me a perfect breakfast with them scrambled on toast on our return from the market

Milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £5,65

So a bargain week - £30.45 but also bought lots at the Chinese shop in Brixton - sauces and tofu and things as well as lamb chops. a few more potatoes, biscuits and salt so double that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

White Bean & Summer Vegetable Salad

Beans are wonderful things. As legumes - that is, the seed of a plant that has pods - they absorb nitrogen from the air, making them rich sources of protein - more than in any other plant food, in fact. They are, however, relatively low in the essential amino acid methionine which is found in many grains. Hence the different combinations of legume and grain round the world in pursuit of the perfect protein - dal and rice in India, Mexican refried beans stuffed into corn tortilla, soy bean tofu with rice in many Asian countries and, a definite favourite round ours at least, peanut butter sandwiches.

Beans are also one of the oldest things around--and one of the first wild plants to be domesticated, long before any wild animals truckled to mankind's hand. We eat a lot of them one way and another - I love their versatility. They add texture as well as creaminess, flavour and robustness to stand up well to bold additions like chilli and garlic and woody herbs.

They are capable of great subtlety too - think of creamy bean soups, beans mixed with pasta for minestrone or salad or the joy of butterbean mash. Pairing them with summer vegetables and herbs results in a surprising delicacy, making them an ideal ingredient all year round.

White Bean & Summer Vegetable Salad

Mixing the dressing into the salad while the beans are still warm gives great depth of flavour to this very summery salad.

Serves 6 as a side salad

200g dried white beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 bayleaf
2 medium courgettes
1/2 aubergine
About a dozen baby plum or cherry tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
100ml basil oil
25ml lemon juice

Drain and rinse the beans, then put them into a large pan with the bay leaf and plenty of cold water to cover. Bring to the boil over a high flame, skim the inevitable froth, then simmer till the beans are tender. Add a generous teaspoon of salt and simmer for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, halve the courgettes lengthwise, then cut into slices a little under a centimetre thick. You want the pieces to cook fairly quickly and make for a nice mouthful with the cooked beans. Cut the aubergine into 3 or 4 lengthwise, depending on its size, then cut into similar sized chunks to the courgettes. If small, leave the tomatoes whole. Flatten the unpeeled garlic with the blade of a knife. Put all the vegetables and garlic onto a flat, low sided baking tray and mix with a couple of tablespoons of the basil oil. Season.

Bake in a moderate/gas4/200F oven for about 15 minutes then stir. Bake for a further 10 minutes or so till the vegetables are softened and taking on colour but still nice and juicy.

Remove the tray from the oven and discard the garlic. Let the vegetables cool slightly till the beans are cooked. Drain the beans and wash with cold water for a minute.

Make a simple dressing with the rest of the oil, the lemon juice and salt and pepper.

In a large bowl mix the vegetables, including any oil on the tray, with the beans and the dressing.

Allow to cool for half an hour or so before serving.

Friday, August 06, 2010

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

I am on a mission to clear cupboard and freezer so am trying to use what we have to make the menu this week. So Saturday I fancy steamed tofu and something noodle had a little thai fest with stuffed with pork and prawn, a lemongrass and prawn relish, shredded cabbage salad and rice and it was very very nice. Sunday I am thinking of making a baked aubergine pasta with leftovers for lunches. Monday burgers and salad because I want to try them with guinness. Tuesday we are out to see La Bête, Wednesday risotto omelette and salad, Thursday grilled pork chops potato and cabbage bake and Friday we are out for dinner we're in for Burmese noodles.

It was cold again and raining Saturday morning and Borough was almost empty just gone nine. I wasn't looking for meat this week so we went past the Ginger Pig and into Teds Veg to start. Bought potatoes, carrots and a beautiful big head of celery which so far has only had the leaves chopped into the potato pie - £4.30

Then to the Italian stall for mozzarella - two lovely buffalo balls for £4.90

Tomatoes from the Isle of Wight into a curry sauce - £2

Headed to find Lizzie at Wild Beef to find her stall has not only moved but halved in size. It is her punishment from the market trustees for not wanting a stall on Thursday - it is not economic for their business as most trade is tourists who are not going to buy fresh meat to take back to their hotel. But it is part of a wider move by the trustees to turn Borough into a solely tourist destination with traders selling 'things in jars' as souvenirs and some ready made food for lunch. They no longer have a care for traders who sell ingredients or those, like us, who want to shop for them. It is simple enough, given the markets popularity, to allow those traders who sell fresh food to have stalls only Saturday, particularly as this is how the market in general and stalls like Wild Beef traded initially. It is the result of their hard work and dedication that Borough Market exists in its present state at all. Those who aim their business at the tourists can trade early in the week. But instead they are simply getting rid. The Essex fish stall that replaced the Devon fishermen - who were told they could not trade only on a Saturday despite not selling their fabulously fresh fish on weekdays - was not even there this week, and their attendance is random at best. Rhodes, a more recent bread stall that sold really good bread since 2003 at the market also found they had little trade on Thursday and they were told they couldn't keep the stall without Thursdays. They have gone. But the most shocking thing is that Tony Booth will cease trading at Borough on 28th August, driven out by the intractability of the trustees. When he told them he was going they asked him to sell the name on as a brand so that someone else could sell vegetables in his place. Tells it all really, it's his family name and, funnily enough, not a brand to him. He will continue his highly respected business, using his own name, from Maltby Street in September. Beginning to wonder whether it's time to find a new source of food. Bought eggs - £1.50

Bought prawns from Shellseekers Saturday supper - £3.70

Then to Booths - while I can - for garlic, lettuce and cucumber - £3.97

From Neals Yard I bought a stunningly rich piece of cheddar, milk and yoghurt - £12.10

A cottage loaf from Flour Power - £1.10

And some giant bananas from Elsey & Bent - £1.96

Realised after I got home that I forgot to buy coffee even though it was the first thing on my list - thoroughly discombobulated at the way Borough is heading - so went back later to a thronged out market for some dark roast costa rican - £10.50

So eventually spent £46.03. Also bought spring onions, tofu, coriander, haricot blanc, rice flour, coconut cream, butter, nuts and biscuits. And a tub of cream later in the week as well as a loaf from St John.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Zuccini Torte Ricette

Apparently, at this time of year, people who grow zucchini are avoided by all and sundry. Not just casual acquaintance but friends, family, absolutely everyone hides from them, deliberately crossing the road at their approach, ignoring the ding dong of the doorbell, pretending in extreme cases to be on holiday. Early in the season when the first courgettes appear there is delight all round, they are crisp and small and, crucially, few in number. As the peak of the season arrives - right about now - they are prolific in every sense, each one picked seemingly replaced by 2 more next day, and each of those twice the size of the one they have replaced. The magic of cucurbitas, you really can see them grow, an inch a day every day, they are irresistable.

Avoidance is wrong. What is needed is ideas, lots of them, to use up this incredible veg. It is versatile, makes great pasta sauce with a little basil or some cream. Or both and a little Parmesan grated over to finish. It's a joy with garlic and mascarpone and a concentric delight as topping for tart They work well in vegetable curries, are simple and quick in frittata, they roast to golden perfection on their own or toss them with tomatoes and aubergine and slow roast with garlic for a great side dish or salad. Brilliant turned into ribbons with a steamed meatball topping for pasta.
And then there is this torte. Or rice pie as the man dubbed it when asked to stir the bowl on his way through the kitchen. From the brilliant Anna del Conte it mixes thin rounds of zucchini with rice and eggs and herbs then the lot is wrapped in filo for baking.

I love the paper-thin translucent sheets of filo and the incredible crunch they acquire when baked. It's so delicate to handle, soft almost like fabric, soothing somehow. It offers a small resistance when you bite into it, then crackles into luscious flakes. And if your timing is just ever so slightly out, any burnt bits break off and still leave lots of pastry underneath.

Zuccini Torte

Serves 4

The rice is used raw, but then it sits in the rest of the filling for 2 hours, thus becoming soft. An interesting way to treat rice

350g courgettes
1 white onion or 1/2 small spanish onion
125g/4oz Italian rice, preferably Arborio
8 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
3 tbpsn freshly grated Parmesan
1 tbspn finely chopped fresh herbs, marjoram, thyme and parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
125-150g filo pastry, defrosted if frozen

Cut off and discard the ends of the courgettes, then slice them very finely indeed. put the courgettes in a baol.

Peel the onion and slice it paper-thin. Add to the courgettes together wiht the rice, 5 tablespoons of the oil , the Parmesan, herbs, salt and a good grinding of pepper.

Beat the eggs lightly and add to the bowl. Mix the whole thing very thoroughly. (I find the best tool for this is a pair of clean hands.) Cover the bowl and set aside for a couple of hours. Mix again and again whenever you remember during this time, becasue the liquid sinks to the bottom and you want the rice and the courgette to sit in it equally.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Pour the remaining oil into a small bowl. Use a little of it to oil a 20cm/8in spring form tin.

Unfold the filo pasty leaves carefully,one at a time. Keep the rest covered while you work oneach leaf because filo pastry dries out and cracks very quickly. Lay one leaf of pastry over the bottom and up the sides of the tin, allowing the ends to hang over the outside of the tin.. Using a pastry brush, brush the pastry with a little of the oil, then lay another leaf of filo across the previous one so as to cover the sides of the tin completely. Brush with oil, and cover with 2 more leaves, brushing each leaf as before. You will then have 4 layers of filo pastry.

Stir the courgette meixture thoroughly and spoon it into the prepared case. Fold the over hanging pieces of pastry over the top, one at a time, brsuing with oil between each leaf. If necessary add another oiled sheet across the top.

Place the tin int he oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Turn the heat up to 200C/400F/Gas 6 to crips the top until it becomes a lovely golden brown colour.

Let the tourte cool slightly in the tin, then unmould and transfer to a round serving dish and serve warm or at room temperature.

To cut, use a very sharp knife or the pastry will crumble.

This pie is very quick and easy, produces a very moreish array of textures as well as flavours when baked, with a moist filling inside that crispy crust. We ate it warm Sunday night for dinner with a crunchy celery, fennel and carrot salad and cold for lunch for a couple of days after that.

It is possibly perfect for picnics.

A big thank you to Sue whose garden was the source of the very fine zuccini used in this recipe.