Friday, December 29, 2006

This Week

This week was a most magnificent week for eating and, being of an indulgent predisposition at the best of times, we were more than happy to apply ourselves with gusto!

Saturday lunch was a bowl of hot chickpea and vegetable soup finished with a soffrito of rosemary, sage and pancetta - an excellent way to begin the week being both healthy and tasty and generally satisfying. I spent the afternoon preparing - chocolate truffle cake, red pepper hummus, salmon cured with coriander, a reduction of stock and red wine for the jus to go with the beef - so, many hours later, simple was best. Supper was the real beginning of feasting and we had a large platter with prawns complete with Hellmans for dipping, parma ham and mozzarella, batons of celery and carrots, semi dried black olives and masses of crusty bread and then, as I'd been to Green Valley earlier in the day, various baklava for a sweet finish

Sunday was xmas eve and I was all for bacon and eggs for breakfast but my sweetheart, convinced we would consume enough protein before the week was out insisted on porridge and it was almost as good. Lunch was pork pie cut into thick slices and an apple on the side before we set off to Richmond to be festive with Jaey and his lovely wife Marie. Their home was Christmas made real with a huge tree, lots of little Santa's, twinkly lights, enough candles to light up heaven and a never ending soundtrack of carols. Brilliant. They had prepared a most magnificent feast - traditional Swedish as that is where Marie was born and grew up - the table utterly laden with meat balls and beetroot salads and potatoes baked with cream and anchovies and wild boar paté that Marie's mum had made from wild boar Marie's step father had raised and butchered and then we had rice pudding scented with vanilla and served warm with lingonberries for dessert.

Wonderful food and also a really different experience for a 'european' meal - I expect to be surprised by asian or middle eastern food but I think I know all about european food and yet it is just not true. Good news I think - more things to try and I'm bound to like most of them. The evening continued with a walk in the park - complete with excitable labrador that our hosts were minding for the holidays - and fireworks just to add to the excitement. Perfect.

Christmas day we rose late and Jaey made hot pikelets - known as drop scones in England - for breakfast with butter and golden syrup - decadence on a plate. We took the dog for a long walk up Richmond Hill and had a quiet beer at the top while we admired the view then, revived, it was home for the main event of the day. We laid out hummus and salmon and olives and salami and celery to nibble over while we sipped champagne and waited for our magnificent rib of beef to cook. After heaving it from the oven and swaddling it in foil it was a simple matter to boil carrots and deep green sprouts, creamy discs of parsnip and roasting to golden the par boiled potatoes. As the red wine jus came up to simmer the lovely boyfriend carved the beast and I dished up the vegetables and finally we sat down again to a blissfully good meal in delightful company. Much later it seemed wise to take the dog out for another walk before we could realistically contemplate chocolate dessert. Returning refreshed we attacked the cake with gusto then settled in to watch a dvd of 'Bad Santa'. Easily the best christmas I've had for years.

Next day we had hot cheese scones for breakfast - good for the hangover - then another walk in the park with the dog dodging golfers and then home through Richmond Park and the clusters of deer making Christmas complete. Dinner Monday was a simple affair of hot bread with roast beef and grilled peppers and so to bed.

Wednesday coffee and cereals for breakfast, a cheerless trudge to work then, after a very quiet morning my sweetheart had an apple after a big hunk of chocolate truffle cake and I bought some lasagne for lunch from an uncharacteristically quiet Barbican Grill then home later for more cold roast beef sandwiches.

After snacking on taramasalata and hot pitta bread, Thursday dinner was the smoked salmon with scrambled eggs made with cream that I'd put in the freezer a few weeks ago when another plan hadn't worked out

Friday another simple breakfast and dinner will be vegetable curry using up the rest of the carrots and sprouts served simply with boiled rice

Not bad(!) for one week and nothing much remaining - some potatoes that we can eat next week, the bacon went into the freezer, Parmesan but it will last a while and come in handy - and the butternut still sitting up in the vegetable rack - next week may be it is time for it to be eaten

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Red Pepper Hummus & Taramasalata

This is the best time of year for snacky things - little plates of bits and pieces scattered about and bowls of smooth creamy dips to go with crisp raw celery and carrots and hot puffs of pitta bread. I love the way christmas is accepted as reason enough to eat and drink almost continuously for days. But it doesn't hurt to apply a little wisdom to the consumption and the construction of what will be eaten - if only so that you can continue the pleasure for longer.

For this reason dips are one of my favourite things - they tend to be quick and easy to make, look pretty in a bowl, last for a few days (unless they are so good that they are eaten immediately!) and can be eaten with raw vegetables which tend to be healthy and add a nice crunch in your mouth.

Both hummus and taramasalata recipes abound - and the shelves of every kind of food shop groans with the weight of the pre made tubs of sort of the same thing. I confess to having had a serious penchant for the bright pink variety of taramasalata when I first came to London. Available in little corner shops, as was packets of pitta bread to heat up to eat with it, I consumed huge amounts of it and loved every mouthful. Then one day I tried the real thing, pale and creamy, and realised it was time to move on. The fickleness of young love.

These two recipes are both very easy to make, not to mention far cheaper than anything you can buy ready made - and the hummus can be whipped up in no time from stuff in the cupboard, assuming you have a tin of chickpeas and a jar of roasted peppers lurking in there somewhere. It comes from Gordon Ramsay's Christmas suggestions for The Times.

Roasted Pepper Hummus

2 red peppers from a jar of roasted peppers or piquillo - or use two fresh red peppers, grilled and skinned
400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drianed
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbspn tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
50g pine nuts, toasted to golden
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Roughly chop the roasted peppers and put into a food processor. Add chickpeas, garlic, lemon and zest, tahini and pine nuts. Start to blitz then slowly pour in the oil, motor running, till it is all incorporated. Keep blending till you have a smooth terracotta paste. Season and chill. Serve with celery, carrots and warm pitta.


1 slice of stale white bread, crusts removed
200g/7 oz smoked cod's roe, soaked overnight in cold water
1 large clove garlic, crushed
240ml/8 fl oz olive oil
juice of 1 or 2 lemons
black pepper

Remove the roe from the soaking water then peel the skin off - it is a bit like a salami skin so just catch the edge of it with a knife and tug till it all comes off. It will immediately look more appetising. Wet the bread and squeeze it out then put it into a blender with the roe and garlic. Blitz, adding a thin stream of oil. If the dip becomes too stiff loosen it with some cold water. When you have the consistency you want, add the juice of one lemon, taste, then add more if you need it. Season with ground black pepper and serve with warm pitta bread and sticks of celery to scoop it up.

I Bought

And so this is Christmas - Borough Market was massively busy in places on Saturday morning. The queues for Neals Yard and Ginger Pig were reminiscent of scenes from the bad old days of the eastern bloc by 9 am. Friday was much worse, by all accounts. Other stalls, like Booths were possibly quieter than usual - in the early days of Borough Market the last weekend before xmas prompted scrums and punch ups to get to the sprouts and the parsnips. The success of box schemes in the last few years seems to have given people an assured source of good vegetables so the panic confines itself to meat and cheese. So we joined in.

We started at Neals Yard where the queue was already round the corner by 8.45 but it was good natured and much entertained by the lorry trying to get down the narrow street without hitting the cars parked on both sides. He got stuck half way - don't know how it ended but the police had arrived by the time we were leaving with our bread, milk and cream - the last tubs left in the entire market - and a sizeable hunk of stilton - £15.20

Next was Ginger Pig where the queue, if anything, was longer so I left the lovely boyfriend at the end of it and set off to find the other things on the list. He eventually picked up a magnificent hunk of rib roast and some bacon and eggs and got little change from £60

First I bought a big bag of King Edwards from the xmas market £2.20

Then I went to Shellseekers and bought sweet pale pink prawns and, on the spur of the moment some brown shrimp to have potted on xmas day - £6.20

Conitnuing the fish theme I bought a small tub of smoked salmon after consuming a large slice generously offered by the woman on the Irish stall - £4

Then to Furness Fish and Game for a glistening piece of fresh salmon fillet - £5.50

Next to the Italian mozzarella stall for two balls of buffalo and a sheet of parma ham - £7.70

I do love a pork pie so I bought one from Mrs Elizabeth King's stall accompanied by cheery wishes for a good xmas - £4.50

By this time my sweetheart had been served and so we went off together first to Booths for parsnips and brussel sprouts, onions and tangerines and lemons - £5.20

Carrots as usual from Total Organics as well as a can of chick peas - £2.20

In Brindisa I bought a jar of char grilled peppers called piquillo - £4.60

Can't be a party without Italian cheeses so we went to Gastronomica where, for the first time ever, the size of the suggested pieces was smaller than I had in mind - it was still early and they too had nearly sold out. I had hoped for rochetta but there was none so I settled for a piece of parmesan, a good hunk of a creamy goat/sheep mix, a round of slightly fermented raw milk and a piece of quite perfect pecorino - £15 the lot

And then we were done here - and it was still only 10.15 am - possibly a record. Total spend was a lot - £128.30 - but we had a week of serious eating ahead of us and we were looking forward to it all. Next week we shall have good intentions.

Friday, December 22, 2006

This Week

As we were going out Saturday night we indulged in hot grilled sausages and crusty bread and crispy salad mid afternoon - one of my better ideas as the choral concert later was a bit of a disappointment so we left at the interval. The dearth of transport suggested it must have been the night for the bus drivers xmas party - took us forever to get home. Upon arrival we needed a little sustenance so my sweetheart had the leftover carbonara, reheated and I had the giant sausage roll with salad so eventually we went to bed content.

Sunday was a quick breakfast of coffee and toast before heading to a screening of the new Clint Eastwood film 'Flags of Our Fathers' which was quite engrossing and I'm not really a fan of war movies. The West End was heaving by the time we came out so we bussed it over to Borough for Sunday lunch at the Wheatsheaf and later, after doing the inevitable household chores and then reading the papers we had a delicate supper of smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and butter ciabatta

Monday was the usual weekly breakfast of cereals and coffee and lunch didn't work out as planned. I had bought and cooked a piece of beef that had been corned - but there had been mustard in the corning mix and mustard is one thing I simply cannot abide so I binned that but did enjoy the rice salad and tomatoes. The lovely boyfriend, who does like mustard, didn't like the texture - it was a little slippery, for want of a better description, so then we had rice and salad and tangerines for seasonal colour so all was not lost. My sweetheart was out in the evening so I indulged myself with a noodle soup because I enjoyed it so much last week.

Tuesday I was out, and had a very enjoyable selection of tapas at Cuba Libre in Islington while my sweetie had a cheese sandwich - a dinner he adores - at home

Wednesday we were warmed by duck daube with mashed potatoes and sprouts and carrots after we'd come in from the foggy night

Thursday I had a good lunch at the newly reopened Hat & Feathers - long may it last - and for dinner I made pasta with the rest of the baby plum tomatoes - they were definitely not the best ones but it is the very end of the season so perhaps I should have known better. They did cook up very well with some garlic and nutmeg and the last of the Parmesan so it could have been worse

Friday we are finishing early so I may drop by the market to see if some shopping is an option and we are having chick pea soup tonight with the chick peas I bought a few weeks ago

Left at the end of this week is the belly pork but it is in the freezer and will be fine another time with lentils, the cucumber because lunches didn't really work out as they should so it may well be binned, the new potatoes are still in the fridge but they could be used in the next week steamed and served with melted butter and the butternut squash still sits happily in the vegetable basket - maybe for next week

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Daube of Duck with Prunes

When I first saw 'daube' on a menu for some reason I assumed it was something in pastry, rich and wintery. So when I ordered it one night for dinner in a small restaurant in France I discovered I was only partly wrong. I was served a steaming plate of food that was lovely and meaty with a good slick of red wine gravy but there was definitely no pastry involved. I subsequently found out that in fact the name derives from the dish in which it was traditionally cooked - a round ceramic pot whose lid was concave so that it could be filled with water thereby surrounding the stew with heat as it cooks in the fire. Clever.

In the village near to ours in the Gers there is a café that serves a particularly splendid menu de la region and, this being duck territory, the main course is a daube made with duck and finished with another local speciality, pruneaux d'Agen. The meat they use is from the legs and thighs, still on the bone to add depth to the finished sauce and to make a fine use of the bits of duck less popular than the breasts - the alternative is confit and there is only so much confit you can eat in a week. The red wine they use is a damned fine local 'rough red' and the addition of prunes gives it little dollops of sweetness rather than making a sugary sauce.
I have eaten this daube often and always with pleasure. So as the temperature finally dropped to wintery this week in London I decided it was worth having a go at making it at home. Starting with a recipe for beef daube I changed a few things and added some others and the end result was very good - but not as good as the one in Gondrin (yet).

Daube of Duck with Prunes

1kg/2 1/2 lbs duck legs and thighs on the bone
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tbspns goose/duck fat
2 tbspns flour
1 tbspn tomato purée
300ml/1/2 pint rich red wine
300ml/1/2 pint stock
bouquet garni
100g/4oz prunes, soaked

Start this at least one day before you plan to eat it!

Chop the duck into reasonable sized pieces - my sweetheart is a dab hand with a cleaver and he chops each joint in two - the aim is to have good sized edible pieces that are roughly the same size.

Heat the fat (or olive oil) in a large pan and seal the duck all over. Take it out of the pan and put to one side while you add the onion and garlic to the pan. Stir it around for a few minutes till it softens then add the flour and tomato paste, mixing briskly. Add the red wine and the stock and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Add the seasoning then put the duck back into the pot along with the bouquet garni. Cover the top of the pot with a sheet of aluminium foil under the lid then bring the daube back to the boil very gently. Put the casserole into a very slow oven - gas 1 - and cook for 5-6 hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool then refrigerate overnight. Next day skim the fat from the top of the daube before reheating and adding the prunes.

Served with a cloud of mashed potatoes and boiled brussel sprouts and carrots, it's the kind of dinner that makes winter worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

TagliatelleCarbonara Prosciutto

Spaghetti carbonara was unknown before World War II - that is my piece of thoroughly useless information for the day - quite a good one, I think. It's origins lie in the war when American servicemen in Rome had lots of eggs and bacon and the locals had pasta and cheese and the natural end result was this simple and utterly fabulous dish.

If I was thinking about making it from memory rather than checking a recipe I would probably think I needed cream but in fact there is no cream in carbonara. What there is, is a silky luxurious sauce of egg yolks and cheese that cooks with the heat of the pasta leaving each strand delicately coated. When you eat it the sensation is definitely an unctuous richness - perfect for mid week supper if life is otherwise seeming bleak. Or for any other excuse you care to come up with to indulge in this treat.

This recipe comes from brilliant Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers 'Pasta & Ravioli' edititon in the River Cafe Pocket Books series.

Tagliattelle Carbonara Prosciutto

350g dried egg tagliatelle
300g prosciutto slices, cut into strips 1cm wide
100g unsalted butter
150ml white wine
6 egg yolks
50g parmesan, freshly grated, plus extra for serving
50g aged pecorino, freshly grated
extra-virgin olive oil

Heat 1tbs of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan, add two thirds of the prosciutto and fry very briefly. Add half of the butter and the wine. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, just to combine the wine with the butter and the prosciutto juices. Mix the egg yolks with the cheeses and season. Cook the tagliatelle in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the pasta water.

Add the pasta to the prosciutto then stir in the egg mixture and the rest of the butter, letting the heat of the pasta cook the egg. Add the reserved cooking water if the sauce seems too thick. Stir in the remaining prosciutto and serve with extra parmesan.

This will seve four.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I Bought

We arrived at Borough Market about half an hour later than was wise on Saturday and already there were queues at Wyndhams Poultry and Ginger Pig with people not actually shopping but ordering for next week for the grand feast that is Christmas. Everyone is generally cheerful, even the stallholders though they are in for a massively busy time.

At Wyndhams I bought some duck legs to try and recreate a dish we like in a café in France - £8.20

At Ginger Pig I bought a piece of corned silverside, a couple of pork chops, some slices of pork belly because it looked particularly good and eggs - £22.40 - and ordered a rib of beef for our Christmas feast

I bought potatoes from Morghew Potato stall in the xmas market that is selling only spuds - a range of traditional varieties so I bought new ones called 'Nicola' and bakers - £2.20

There was no queue at all at Monmouth coffee stall in the xmas market so I bought a bag of dark roasted beans from New Guinea in a flash - £9

Apples from Chegworth - £1.40

Tomatoes from the Isle of Wight - they are the last of the baby plums and I couldn't resist the little shiny red flavour bombs - £3.50

Wild beef sausages for a decadent lunch - £4

Carrots from Total Organics - £1

Booths was remarkably quiet - I guess no one pre orders their sprouts - so we bought some for this week as well as cucumber, onions, garlic, sugar snaps, a not entirely fresh green pepper, some delicate salad leaves, and some bright orange tangerines - £4.05

The Irish smoked salmon people were back. Though they've had to raise their prices I was delighted to see them and I bought a small tub because it is like edible luxury - £4 (was £3.50)

A big fat sausage roll from Ginger Pig - £3

Big queue at Neals Yard - there'll be a lot of stilton enjoyed before 2007 arrives - but for this week I just bought milk and bread - £5.70

And that's our lot - £68.45

Friday, December 15, 2006

This Week

We had a sociable weekend starting with meeting up with Jaey and Marie to queue for the big slide at Tate Modern - and it was well worth the wait. Wildly exciting. Afterwards we had a fine lunch at The Anchor and Hope so dinner was simply a platter of bread and ham and cheese and olives - what my sweetheart calls a cold collation. One of his favourite kind of meals.

Sunday we had toast and coffee before going to a preview of Deja Vu - Denzel Washington is a very good actor but the premise for this film was flimsy beyond belief. We had pork pie and salad when we got home then David came for dinner to exchange holiday stories - his in Luxor and ours in Bali. After snacks and a glass of wine we had blanquette de veau with rice and brussel sprouts and carrots for a sumptuous meal followed by prunes and cream. Dessert brought back memories of growing up - my mother used to make dessert every night - proper ones like junkets and custards and sometimes prunes and cream. Thinking about it now I am impressed by how much effort she went to daily for us - she's a great cook and the source of my abiding fascination with good food.

Monday it was coffee and cereals and yoghurt as always, then cold poached chicken and rice and green beans for lunch and again each day till Thursday, and Monday night we had sausage and mash and peas for supper neatly using up the chicken I had frozen from last week, the potatoes we hadn't eaten and the leftover cream

Tuesday we were out at the Dana Centre to listen to an illustrated lecture about scientific existence in the Antarctic

Wednesday it was a wonderful bowl of grilled pork and noodle soup

Thursday my sweetheart had cold noodles with the last of the chicken and salad and I bought meatballs and lentils from Mario and Carol's stall in Whitecross Street and we were out for dinner with the lovely boyfriend's work colleagues where the food wasn't great but the company was charming so it was a good evening

Friday we will both buy lunch and dinner will be the delicate pleasure of a perfect carbonara

So we ate pretty much everything this week that we bought on the weekend - except the butternut from the week before last - but it will survive a while yet

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Grilled Pork and Noodle Soup

Otherwise known as pork chop soup. This started around the time that Wagamama started in London. I really liked their noodle soups - the way they somehow got a whole meal into a large bowl that firstly was visually arresting when it was served while giving off an intriguing aroma and then was full of contrasting flavours and textures so that each mouthful was different from first to last. Initially I just ate at Wagamama a lot. Then I started tinkering at home to make my own versions and discovered that not only is this soup easy to make, there are endless variations around the basics of stock, noodles, greens and a poached egg.

The recipe below is last nights version.

Grilled Pork & Noodle Soup

2 pork chops
800ml/1 1/4 pts stock
250g/ 1/2lb chinese greens like bok choy
1/4 savoy cabbage, shredded
1 tbspn olive or peanut oil
1 tspn sesame oil
200g/ 6oz dried egg noodles
2 eggs
small bunch coriander, chopped

Season the pork chops and put under a medium grill, turning occasionally till cooked. At the same time, heat half the oil in a large saucepan, wash the bok choy and add it, with any water clinging to the leaves, to the hot oil. Cover with a lid and cook till just wilted. Drain in a colander and set aside. Heat the other half of the oil, wash the shredded cabbage and add it to the hot oil and cover and cook till just wilted. Add it to the colander with the bok choy then toss with a little sesame oil. Cover with the lid from the pan and set aside.

Heat the stock to simmering. Add the dried noodles and cook gently for a few minutes. By this time the pork chops should be done - take them out from under the grill and slice. Take the noodles from the stock with a pasta spoon and make a little nest in the base of two large bowls. Turn the heat up under the stock to full. Break an egg into the middle of each nest then ladle boiling stock over them to poach them - they should cook immediately. Arrange the sliced pork and the shredded veg around the egg then top with more stock. Sprinkle generously with coriander and serve.

This makes for a quick supper - it is all done in the time it takes to grill the pork chops. You can use steak or chicken or tofu, grilled prawns would be nice, add chillies and spring onions and fried shallots or garlic slivers or bean sprouts or all of the above, if your bowls are big enough.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blanquette de Veau

Veal is a by product of the dairy industry. For dairy cows to continue to produce milk they need to calve each year. Female calves are introduced into the dairy herd to allow the herd to grow and thrive but male calves are extraneous. Slaughtered young they provide a delicate meat that is widely used in French and Italian cooking in particular. They have often been, and in some countries still are, raised during their short lives in extremely cruel conditions crated into small wooden boxes and force fed milk substitute, denied both exercise and natural light as well as social interaction with other calves. If you don't know the provenance of the veal don't buy it.

Unsurpisingly studies have found carcasses of group-housed calves were heavier than those of crated calves and with higher average daily gain and feed conversion there is better carcass conformation and carcass tenderness, and better flavor than crated calves. The meat is not as pale but in fact consumers are not looking for 'white' veal - just meat that is high quality and delicately flavoured. It is well worth searching out the best - as with all your food - and you shall be well rewarded.

Blanquette de veau is a rustic french veal dish that has been around so long that it can rightly be considered a classic. It takes simple ingredients and methods and transforms them into something luscious and elegant and one of my favourite dishes of all time. There are many versions throuhgout France. This recipe comes from 'Goose Fat & Garlic' by Jeanne Strang, a book I bought after I'd spent some time in south west France and had gone in search of local recipes. Having used it to learn how to make perfect grilled magret and a rich daube this book has become one of my favourites.

Blanquette de Veau du Carcassès

800g/(1 3/4 lb) stewing veal
1 tbspn goose fat
150ml/1/4 pt) dry white wine
400ml (3/4 pt) water
1 onion stuck with 2 cloves
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 leek, cleaned and white part sliced
bouquet garni of thyme, bay, parsley and rosemary
salt, pepper, nutmeg
10-12 little onions or 3 medium sized ones
250g (1/2 lb) mushrooms, preferably girolles if you can afford them, or else something tasty
60g (2oz) butter
45g (1 1/2oz) butter plus 2 tbspns plain flour (for the roux)
2 egg yolks
2 tbspns double cream
juice of 1 lemon

Trim and cube the meat. Blanch it for a few seconds in boiling water, then drain it and plunge into cold water and then drain again.

Melt the goose fat in a casserole, add the blanched veal and stir to seal. Add the wine and water, onion with cloves, carrot, leek, bouquet garni and seasoning. Quarter the onions or, if you are using little pickling ones, blanch them whole, then add them to the meat. Bring the casserole to the boil slowly then gently simmer for an hour or so, until the meat is tender.
This is a perfect point to turn it off then cover, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. The flavour will develop beautifully.

Reheat the stew, then cook the mushrooms briefly in a little butter. Make a roux in a separate pan by melting the butter till just turning golden, stir in the flour and cook until it is biscuity in colour and aroma. Moisten it with about half a cup of veal stock from the casserole, stirring to make a smooth sauce. Bring the sauce to the boil then simmer very gently for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile beat up the egg yolks, cream and lemon juice in a bowl. When the sauce is ready stir a ladleful into the egg/cream/lemon mix and then tip the lot back into the sauce. Mix thoroughly and add to the casserole. Add the mushrooms and their juice and stir to incorporate. Check the seasoning then serve.

We had it on Sunday with plain steamed white rice and brussel sprouts and it was wonderful.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Bought

Saturday was an absolutely glorious winter day - clear blue skies, bright sun and properly cold - just fabulous. Arriving early we found Borough Market was fairly quiet so shopping was an unadulterated pleasure.

At Ginger Pig we bought diced veal, sausages, pork chops and eggs for £23

We had a friendly chat with the nice man at Mrs Kings Pork Pie stand and admired the shiny silver cups they won last week, coming first in two categories at the annual Melton Mowbray show, so we bought a lovely golden pie to take home - £4.50

Quick chat with Garry from Total Organics as he set out his cheeses in the xmas market - seems Railtrack have finally got the go ahead to expand London Bridge station and so they will wipe out a swathe of Borough

Bought apples from Chegworth Valley - £1.30

Carrots from the main Total Organics - £1.20

Horse mushrooms, fat shiny brussel sprouts, onions, garlic, mixed salad leaves from Booths £3.40

Buffalo mozzerella and parma ham from the little stall near the front - £7.50

Apple strudel from a new cake stall that had a lovely - and irresistable - display £2

Milk, bread, yoghurt and cream from Neals Yard - £10.50

A small tub of green olives with tarrragon and garlic from Borough Olives - £2

Cornish double cream from Wild Beef - £1.50

My sweetheart, feeling virtuous for not indulging last week, insisted on a chocolate brownie this week - £1.50

A very reasonable £58.40

Friday, December 08, 2006

This Week

Posting blog 100! Time to spread the word a little more.

But to the topic at hand. This week was not entirely smooth - some things worked better than others and some things fell by the wayside.

Saturday we had bread and jam and coffee after the market then set off to the private view of the latest work by the Boyle Family and it is fascinating. A study of the growth of a random sweeping of seeds during the summer, it is a projection of images taken for 1 second every 10 minutes 24/7 for months. It's extraordinary how much changes between frames and how easy it is to get caught up watching the movement of light. Brilliant. Then we tottered off to Taj Stores because it was nearby for some bits and pieces and then home to a quick snack first of sausage roll then chinesey roasted spare ribs, green peppers stir fried with black beans and rice later. Good.

Sunday we started with porridge and the papers and coffee. I started off a huge pot of chicken stock with bits and pieces of chicken I have frozen lately and the carcasses I bought plus lots of vegetables. By the time it was gently simmering the sun was shining in a clear blue sky so we wandered over to the Tate for a little culture then home later for scotch egg and housework. Dinner was the first attempt at Bali food at home - dry spiced beef and bali salad with rice. It took a little longer than I was expecting - forgot to factor in that when we'd made them at the cooking school there was a dozen of us plus a back up professional kitchen (!) but, when we got there, it was a triumph.

Monday it was coffee and cereals and yoghurt for breakfast and the same, as usual, for the week, lunch was leftover spiced beef and rice for a little filip in the middle of the day, same Tuesday and dinner was smoked salmon, beetroot salad, rocket and crusty bread - perfect.

Tuesday dinner was less successful - I kept one of the slices of topside I bought for the spiced beef to make a stir fry with fresh coriander and it turned out okay but not brilliant partly because I only had a tiny bit of peanut oil so didn't deep fry the marinated meat. I made sea spice aubergine to go with it which is one of my favourite dishes and it too was a disaster. The oven is playing up - it turns itself off for no reason, then the electronic spark clicks loudly and it eventually reignites and I think the heat must have dropped significantly so the aubergine were under cooked and it all went bad from there. At least the rice was nice.

Wednesday my lovely boyfriend had the last of the spiced beef with fresh rice from the night before with cucumber, sugar snaps and discs of carrots for lunch and I made a salad box with rice for me and a boiled egg which I forgot to take. So we regrouped Wednesday night and went to see the highly praised 'London to Brighton' - which is most of all like a very good episode of 'The Sweeney' so interesting rather than brilliant, then had dinner at 'Upstairs' on Acre Lane which, too, was interesting rather than brilliant.

Thursday I bought a wild boar chorizo roll from Denhays stall in the second food market on Whitecross Street and some rye bread to go with bacon and barley soup from the freezer when I got home from the last of my French classes for the year which was lovely when I got in out of the lashing gales

Friday I made a vegemite sandwich on rye for my love with an apple for his lunch and I shall find a treat at Whitecross Street again then we shall probably have spicy corn fritters and a repeat of the Bali salad for dinner using the rest of the cabbage and beans and coconut

So I didn't use the chicken I had bought for lunches - that went into the freezer and can come out again for next week, there is also some celery and potatoes that may well be used this week and otherwise we ate pretty much everything. Though last week's butternut is still sitting happily untouched in the vegetable rack

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Spiced Beef and Bali Salad

Decided to abandon cold weather food and go instead for the hot clean spiciness of Asia for a few days. My sweet pea is susceptible to the winter blues. He blossomed into cheerfulness in the tropical paradise that is Bali but we are both a bit flat now that we're back in London so, in addition to lovely hot porridge for Sunday breakfast which is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone's face, I thought I'd try some of the newly learned Bali dishes. Maybe get a little sparkle back.

The spiced beef wasn't something I'd had before but we ate the salad both at Bumbu and Desak made it for us a couple of times at the villa and every time it was wonderful. It is hot with chilli and sweet with grated coconut and sour with bean sprouts and cabbage and generally amazing and utterly unlike anything I've made before.

Attending the cooking class meant that I knew where I was headed before I started - such knowledge is valuable. The most direct thing I could apply for this meal was the correct way to use shrimp paste. It is a common Asian condiment and is known as terasi (also spelled trassi, terasie) in Indonesian, kapi (กะปิ) in Thai, belacan (also spelled belachan, blachang, balachong) in Malay, mam tom in Vietnamese and bagoong alamang/aramang in Filipino.If you've never used it you will be astounded by the smell - it is very very pungent. Imagine the smell of prawns that have gone off - then imagine the smell if, instead of immediately getting rid of them you left them in the sun for a few more weeks to rot beyond recognition. That is like the smell that greets you when you unwrap the little brick of shrimp paste from its many layers of paper and plastic. For the Malay version, rather than rot them in the sun, they pound them with salt and bury them for a couple of months, then dig them up again and make them into bricks to sell. Mmmm.

Anyway, the proper way to treat shrimp paste before adding it to a dish is to put it into a hot dry pan and break it up with a wooden spoon and then continue cooking it till it is smoking - and smelling even stronger! This process takes about ten minutes - it becomes crumbly and then it is ready to be used. It adds a deep savouriness to the dish without being identifiable - amazing given its aroma.


Don’t be misled by the rather uninteresting appearance and name of this beef dish. It is wonderfully flavored and generally so popular that it’s worth making a large amount. Cook as directed below, then if you have leftovers after a meal, deep fry the beef until very crisp. Drain thoroughly and store in an airtight container. This crisp beef is excellent as a finger food with cocktails, and also makes a tasty accompaniment to rice-based meals.

1 kg beef topside, cut in 4 steaks 250g each
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 tbsp chopped palm sugar
2 large red chilies, seeded
2 tbsp laos peeled and sliced
2 tsp dried shrimp paste
2 cloves ground
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely ground
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp freshly squeezed limejuice

PREPARATIONS :Bring 5 liters (20 cups) of lightly salted water to the boil in stockpot. Add beef and simmer for approximately 1 hour, until very tender. Remove from stock. Meat must be so tender that its fibers separate very easily. Pound meat until flat and shred by hand into fine fibers. Do not be tempted to use a food processor to shred the meat - you will end up with paste.

Place garlic, coriander, palm sugar, red chilies, Laos, dried shrimp paste, cloves, salt and peppercorns in food processor and puree coarsely, or grind in a stone mortar. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan and sauté the marinade for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add shredded beef, mix well and sauté until dry. Season with limejuice.Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Serve at room temperature.

Bali Salad - Jukut Urab

100 gr (3 ½ oz) blanched cabbage
100 gr (3 ½ oz) spinach, blanched
100 gr (3 ½ oz) long beans cut in 32,5 cm (line) pieces, blanched
100 gr (3 ½ oz) bean sprouts, blanched
1 large red chili, sliced
1 tbsp grated coconut
2 tbsp fried shallots

2 tbsp fried shallots
2 tbsp sliced garlic clove
1 large red chili, seeded and sliced
2 tsp fried chili (Sambal Sereh Tabia)
3 fragrant lime leaves, very finely sliced
4 cm (1½ in) kencur, peeled & chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon crushed black pepper
½ teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon oil

Cut cabbage into pieces about 2,5 cm by 1 cm (1 in by ½ in). Combine all vegetables, chili, grated coconut and fried shallots in salad bowl and mix well.

For the dressing: Crush the garlic and fry very briefly in the oil. Combine all ingredients and mix well in separate bowl. Mix the dressing thoroughly with the vegetables; season to taste with salt, pepper and limejuice. Serve at room temperature.

Easy peasy and the result is a little bit of Bali bliss.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I Bought

Quietish at Borough Market this week early on and vaguely sunny to welcome the opening of the extra Christmas Market with it's giant snow flakes dangling from the ceiling and festive tunes from the Salvation Army Band in full voice and full regalia. Lots of people queueing to place their yuletide orders.
The promise of special things makes everyone seem cheerful.

I bought a chicken at Wyndhams and two carcasses for stock - £6

I bought some topside at Ginger Pig and a lovely meaty rack of pork ribs and some eggs - £16.80

Apples from Chegworth Valley from their new stand in the xmas hall but they have no scales so pricing is approximate - £1.20

Chick peas and carrots from Total Organics £2.85

Potatoes, spinach, cabbage, onions, garlic, sugar snaps - and a fresh hairy coconut - from Booths - £6.50

On the way back to Ginger Pig was delighted to see the Irish smoked salmon people at their stall - they've missed a few weeks because bad weather made the ferry crossing impossible - so I bought a tub of their finest salmon for a treat - £3.50

Then to Ginger Pig again for a hot sausage roll and a scotch egg - £6

Bought 3 green peppers, 2 aubergine and a cucumber from Tony (but not a partridge in a pear tree) - £3.40

Bread, milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £6.80

No chocolate brownie for my lovely one this week - he's worried about the volume of sweet treats he consumes all of a sudden - and there was still a few biscuits left in the Duchy of Cornwall box in the fridge in case of emergencies

A bargain week - £53.05

Friday, December 01, 2006

This Week

A mixed week. Still very mild in London but nasty wet at times too with great drifts of leaves piling up against fences. Saturday was a grazing kind of day. We had bread and home made marmalade - made by the lovely boyfriend's very talented mother - mid morning then slices of giant sausage roll after that. Mid afternoon snack was slices of scotch egg and then chunks of Pecorino and chinks of the softish truffle cheese. Later still we had prawns and crab and thick slabs of crusty bread and butter with a fine white wine - all in all a very pleasurable kind of day.

Sunday there were hailstones after heavy rain. We had porridge for breakfast - hot and comforting. My sweetheart eats his with cream and dark brown sugar and I like mine with butter and light brown sugar. Some people say we have nothing in common but it's not true - we both like porridge. Fortified, we decided to tackle the cupboard under the stairs which was bursting with all manner of stuff. Three hours later we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the Wheatsheaf. Roast pork with roasted winter vegetables and sprouts made for a very good dinner.

Monday coffee and cereals for breakfast and the same for the week, lunch was cold roast pork and the melange of veg and again on Tuesday, and we went to see the new Caryl Churchill play 'Drunk Enough to Say I Love You' which was extraordinary. Very short - 50 minutes and edited to the absolute essence - it was a two hander between Jack - as in Union - and Sam - as in Uncle. The core conceit was that Jack, in thrall, leaves his wife and family to be with Sam and it traced the arc of their relationship through their examination of the best way to be at war from Vietnam to now. It was let down slightly by the directing which lacked the courage of the writing but it was fascinating. We went home for a bowl of hot cauliflower and stilton soup.

Tuesday we had pasta for dinner with goats curd and rocket and chilli which was nice but would definitely be improved with more rocket. Next time.

Wednesday we had leftover pasta for lunch and then the utterly amazing chicken with cinnamon and lemon for dinner.

Thursday we had cold chicken and rice for lunch, again utterly enjoyable, and then scrambled eggs and crusty bread and cheese for a speedy supper after French

Friday I shall buy lunch from the Mario and Carol who have a stall selling hot Italian food in Whitecross Street. They used to run the Alba food store selling a range of homemade Italian food and high quality groceries but were driven out by the arrival of Waitrose across the street. A cheerful couple, they have decided the upside is that now they have the afternoons free. Tonight we'll have carbonara as I may be needing soft food after seeing the dentist this afternoon.

Not much left over at all this week - some potatoes which will probably be used over the weekend and some sprouts which may be ok or may be headed for the bin. And the butternut squash but it will last until another day.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chicken with Cinnamon and Lemon

Oh oh oh - this is blissful. Sometimes a dish is so much better than expected the first time you try it that it is quite astonishing. It is how I feel about this one. I found the recipe on line a little while ago and copied it because it sounded interesting and because it came with a good pedigree. There is a small Italian restaurant in central London called Caldesi where I have eaten a few times and always extremely well. I first came across it in connection with Slow Food and have been interested ever since. The BBC recently produced 'Return to Tuscany' about the Caldesi's travails and successes setting up a food school in Italy and some of their recipes are on the bbc site, my source for this one. Looked promising.

While we were in Bali we went to some local markets and one of the spices they sell is what they call cinnamon, though in fact it is 'bastard cinnamon' or cassia. It has much thicker bark and is rougher in texture and less delicate in fragrance. Cassia sticks can be distinguished from true cinnamon sticks fairly easily - cinnamon sticks have many thin layers and can easily be made into powder using a coffee or spice grinder, whereas cassia sticks are extremely hard, are usually made up of one thick layer and can break an electric spice or coffee grinder if you attempt to grind them without first breaking them into very small pieces. So, be warned!

What the cinnamon adds here, along with the subtle flavours of the bay and lemon and the soffritto is a kind of delicate complexity that takes this dish into territory I didn't know. It was something about scent and depth of flavour as well as the juicy chicken and the unctuousness of the sauce.

Chicken with Cinnamon & Lemon

For the soffritto
8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig rosemary
4 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, zest only

For the chicken
flour, for coating
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 chicken pieces
olive oil, for frying
100ml/3½fl oz white wine
1 lemon, juice only
4 cinnamon sticks
200ml/7fl oz chicken stock

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, rosemary and bay leaves until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the rosemary sprig and bay leaves and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the grated lemon zest. Set to one side.
Meanwhile, for the chicken, mix the flour with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and coat the chicken pieces in this mixture. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the chicken until golden brown. Add the wine and cook for five minutes. Add the chicken and wine reduction to the soffritto, then add the lemon juice and cinnamon. Stir well. Add the stock and cook on a low heat, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced and the chicken is completely cooked through. Take off the lid and cook gently for another 15-20 minutes till the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove the cinnamon sticks and serve immediately with white rice.

Absolutely amazing.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I Bought

Dull and wet, Borough is not an attractive place to be in the rain with puddles everywhere, unexpected drips dropping down the back of your neck from the rafters high above and occasional bits of slippery leaves that need dodging as you wander about in the half light. The upside is it was a little quieter than it's been of late so it was easy to get around.

Bought a couple of chicken legs from Wyndhams but they didn't yet have any carcasses for the day so stock making will have to be done another weekend - so much for that plan - £3.80

A lovely piece of boned pork shoulder from Ginger Pig - £8.70 - it was too busy in there to make enquiries about the butchering courses they were advertising but the lovely boyfriend and I are definitely curious

Carrot apple and ginger juice - a classic combination to provide a little cheer - from Total Organics - £3

Thought we might like a little cheese from Gastronomica - we were offered a richly flavoured piece of mature pecorino to try so we bought a slab of that, then my eagle eyed sweetheart noticed a new cheese with truffle but soft so we had a half of one of those and to round it off we tried some goats curd that had been left to separate, the whey given back to the goats then a little salt was added to the curd and it was so good we had a tub of that too - all this for £10

Some rough skinned russets from Chegworth Farm - £1

Lots of winter veg from Booths - red skinned potatoes, parsnips, turnips and swede for a seasonal melange to go with the pork roast, as well as brussel sprouts and beans and a butternut squash - £8.60

Hankering after a final taste of sunnier climes we bought a dressed crab and fresh prawns from Shellseekers for a simple supper - £11.80

Back past Ginger Pig and the glistening pile of sausage rolls was irresisible - so one of those and a scotch egg - £6

Dark roast New Guinea coffee beans as a change from my usual South American favourites - it comes highly recommended by the woman who served me and who could know better? - £9

Bread and milk from Neals Yard where the price of Hoxton Rye has gone up to £2.45 a quarter making it more expensive than poilane - but then we like it more than poilane so I bought a piece - £6.50

Needed olive oil which we buy from Borough Olives - had hoped for a catch up chat with Marie at the same time but she was nowhere to be seen - £22.50

All in all not a cheap week but the oil will do us for a couple of months - £90.90

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup

Though most strongly associated with Christmas - because it is so special perhaps? - Stilton is one of my favourite cheeses all year round. In 1996 it was granted Protection Designation Origin status by the European Commission and there are only 6 dairies anywhere licensed to make Stilton - only using pasteurised milk from local cows in the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

Its name comes from the town where it was famous as long ago as the early 1700's - Stilton - but because it is located in Cambridgeshire they can't actually make Stilton themselves. Indeed, they never have. Frances Pawlett, the wife of a Melton Mowbray dairy farmer, is the first to be credited with making this fine blue cheese and it was sold to travellers who stopped at the Bell Inn in Stilton on journeying between London and the north. In 1727 Daniel Defoe remarked on passing through Stilton, a town famous for cheese in his Tour Through England and Wales.

As with many of the finer things in life this cheese is made slowly and with great care - to be sold as Stilton it must be cylindrical in shape, form its own crust, be unpressed and have delicate blue veins radiating out from the centre. Most of all it must have that creamy crumbly richness, its mellowness giving way to a piquant aftertaste. It is a delight on any cheeseboard with crisp celery or oatcakes and is the perfect accompaniment to a glass of fine port.

Sometimes - though in my case rarely - there is a little left over that needs to be used up. It was a situation I found myself in this week and rather than waste it I set my heart on making steaming bowls of cauliflower soup, made unctuously rich with my little treasure trove of cheese. And this is how I did it.

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup

1 cauliflower, broken into florets
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbspn butter
1 tbspn olive oil
bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley and thyme
650 ml/ 1 pint stock
325ml/1/2 pint whole milk
1 tbspn cornflour mixed with a little water
150g/4oz stilton, crumbled
salt and ground black pepper

Fry the onion in melted butter and olive oil in a large pan till translucent - about 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower and toss till the little curly heads shine then add the bouquet garni and the stock. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes.

Remove the bouquet garni and liquidise till smooth - for ultra silky pass through a fine mesh sieve at this point. Return the pan to the heat, stir through the cornflour paste and then the whole milk. Cook gently for 10 minutes then stir through the cheese, adjust the seasoning and serve with thick slices of rye bread.

Good enough for Santa.

Friday, November 24, 2006

This Week

An exotic start to the week with dim sum for lunch and 'meat on sticks' for dinner after seeing the new James Bond - all wrapped in the heat of our last full day in Singapore. I do hate it when holidays end. We flew back Sunday but were too tired Sunday night for anything more than a cup of tea before bed and the never ending black hole that is sleep for the jet lagged.

Coffee and cereals Monday for breakfast, a tasty lasagne fromBarbican Grill for me for lunch and steak sandwich with wild beef from the freezer and marinated beetroot and a grilled onion salad on the side for dinner. Perfectly rich and light with various textures to cheer up our first day back.

Tuesday there was goat's milk yoghurt to go with coffee and cereals for breakfasts for the rest of the week, lunch was ham hock from the freezer cooked Monday night with white bean salad and baby carrots from Waitrose 'grown for flavour' as the label proudly announced just to make my head hurt wondering what on earth else you grow vegetables for and then we had steaming big bowls of spaghetti with a beef and tomato sauce known as spag bol in our house even though it is not a classic bolognese sauce by any stretch of the imagination but it is very very good

Wednesday more ham and beans for lunch then roasted butternut risotto for dinner with the stock from the hock as the liquid

Thursday creamy sweet leftover risotto for lunch and the other half of the spaghetti from Tuesday for dinner after I struggled through my French class - will need to do extra homework to catch up

Friday is the last of the ham for lunch and dinner will be cauliflower and stilton soup - it's a nasty kind of day and we have some cheese from before we went away which, though past its best it would be a shame to bin when it could be the perfect finish to an elegant tea

Borough Market tomorrow!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Roasted Butternut Risotto

After a few weeks of holidays and no cooking it's back to real life and not an awful lot in the house. Risotto is always a good standby - a little stock from the freezer, some rice from the cupboard, something interesting to focus the attention and the 'usually I've got some inthe fridge' combination of butter and Parmesan. I'd bought a butternut squash with not very clear intentions of what to do with it then decided I'd try roasting it with some whole cloves of garlic to make a properly autumnal dish. The result was a pan of rice the colour of a glorious tropical sunset flecked with deep green basil, its peppery tang offsetting the sweetness of the rest.

Roasted Butternut Risotto

1kg butternut squash, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 tbspns olive oil
6 unpeeled cloves garlic
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
200g/6oz arborio rice
2 tbspns butter
1 cup vermouth
1 l/1 1/2 pints stock
Freshly grated nutmeg
50g/2oz grated Parmesan
Good handful fresh basil, chopped

Put one tablespoon of olive oil in a baking dish and add the butternut. Season and roast for 50 mins - 1 hour till tender, turning occasionally. At the same time wrap the unpeeled garlic cloves in aluminium foil with a little drizzle of olive oil and roast alongside the squash.

Bring the stock to a slow simmer in a pan on top of the hob. In a large flat pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter. Gently fry the celery for a few minutes, then add the rice and stir till it glistens. Add the vermouth and stir till it is absorbed then squeeze the softened hearts of the garlic cloves into the pan. Add the stock a ladle at a time, stirring till it is absorbed before adding more. When half the stock is used generously grate in some nutmeg then continue adding stock till it is all used and the rice is creamy with just a hint of 'bite' in the centre.

Mash the softened butternut and stir through till it is incorporated into the rice. Season with salt and black pepper. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the Parmesan, cover and turn off the heat. Leave to sit for a couple of minutes then stir through the basil and serve in large bowls.

Monday, November 20, 2006

This Week

I'm back!

It was lovely to go away - very hot, lots of sunshine and the chance to play in the surf in Bali and splash about in the pool in Singapore. The only cooking I did was a bit of chopping and stirring in Bali when we attended Bumbu cooking school. The day started early - 6am - but we were making the most of the jetlag. The sun was already hot for the visit to Jimbaran market to learn about the spices and different fruits and vegetables. Some of them I knew not, like the very beautiful snake fruit with delicately carved skin and a sharpish fruit inside and the sublime mangosteen which I had heard of but never eaten. I will search them out here. We got a very skilful demonstration of how to weave little packages to steam rice - not something I feel confident I could repeat!

The rest of the morning was spent in an outdoor kitchen under an awning making, firstly spice pastes and peanut sauce and then using them to make curries and satè and yellow rice and fried rice. Rice is integral to the Balinese diet - it is the pivot around which the rest of the meal is based. The food is highly spiced and everything that is served with the rice is in very small quantities to give flavour rather than to be a dish on its own. Very different to western eating patterns. The lunch we all sat down to after the class was very generous and extremely tasty. It was a fascinating day.

While we were there we stayed with friends in a sort of paradise house. Their housekeeper is a local woman, Desak, who cooked for us a few nights. She is quite a skilled cook but making meals for us was a different experience for her to her own domestic catering - she is never likely to cook a whole chicken, fish, tofu, vegetables and rice for a mid week supper for four. So judging quantities is not something that came automatically. When we asked for a number of dishes to be served at the same meal what she laid before us was each dish generous enough for a meal on its own - it made me realise the extent to which that judgement is a learned skill for different cuisines and an integral part of the whole process of cooking.

And also that we are, relatively and literally, quite greedy in our consumption. Wanting multiple dishes was a means of tasting many things, giving us as much experience of the food as we could pack into a short time but in fact it doesn't match the experience of local people. We remain as tourists, learning at one remove from reality.

There is probably little that is useful to her that I could teach Desak about european food but her fabulous lemon grass sambal was a revelation to me - a tiny amount of intense spice to transform plain steamed rice. I have no equivalent to offer. But I will make the sambal and think of her long after she has forgotten us.

Singapore is a whole other world - urban and bustling and very shiny clean. Again we had the good fortune to stay in a private home, this time with the delightful Vicki. There is less that is startlingly new here but she guided us to different places for lunch and dinner every day with the effortless ease that comes from serious planning. We had delicate steamed dumplings, amazing fried rice, crunchy stirfried greens one day, richly flavoured indian served on banana leaves another and revisited two favourites from the last trip for perfect rendang and opor ayam one night and the spectacularly fabulous black pepper crab down by the waterfront that is hot and juicy and completely messy. You cannot eat them any way but using your hands - had hot butter juices running up my arms and globs of spice all over me by the end.


Monday, November 06, 2006

I Bought

Easy peasy this week because we are going away on Wednesday to hotter climes in Bali and Singapore for a couple of weeks combined with the fact that the lovely boyfriend had visited Borough Market Friday afternoon and bought masses of treats for us to celebrate my birthday including fillet steak and wild mushrooms for dinner Saturday night which he made all by himself and it was wonderful.

So, after a splendid breakfast at Brindisa we ambled into Ginger Pig where someone had parked a stroller with two caterwauling toddlers who were were bawling at such a pitch it was like physical pain. The butcher and I discussed the best way to put them out of their misery - sadly none of them legal. I bought 2 chicken breasts and two pork chops for £8.34 and left.

Haven't had one for a while so I bought a pork pie - £4.50

Asked for a piece of Parmesan at Gastronomica and was offered a sheep's milk version to try that was sweet and crumbly and I bought a piece for £8 and tried a piece of aged ricotta just to taste it and very good it was too

Kisses and birthday wishes from Marie which was made me smile

Barley from Total Organics because we're running out - £1.29

Parsley and shallots and some horse mushrooms at Booths - £1

Disaster - the Irish smoked salmon people are nowhere to be found and my sweetheart had wanted it for a starter for supper but I had a brainwave and we backtracked to Shellseekers and bought a dressed crab and some sweet shelled prawns that were a treat - £7.75

Bread and milk from Neal's Yard - £4.50

No need for brownies as I brought a slice of chocolate cake home for my lovely one from work

Total £35.38 - cheap!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Chocolate Truffle Cake

In my mind I think I don't make much sweet stuff - and yet here's another one so I have more sweet things than soups on this site at the moment. This cake is a decadent confection of whipped chocolate on a thin rum soaked sponge base that I have been making for years. It used to be my party piece - any time I was doing a dinner party or someone was having a birthday I would whip one of these up and it would be unfailingly good.

The recipe comes from Raymond Blanc's Cooking for Friends, given to me for Christmas many years ago by my friend Andrea. Indeed she was probably there when I first made this. If not she's been present for quite a few of the subsequent ones. Raymond Blanc describes it along the lines of it being a simple and impressive dessert for chocolate lovers which is true but it is much more than that - it's brilliant too for sharing out mid afternoon. I have made this current one for the office - it is my birthday tomorrow and it is a tradition here that you must supply cake for all so they can celebrate. I don't quite know why - in Oz when it is your birthday someone else takes you out for lunch or drinks or cake and generally makes you feel special. I guess it's a cultural thing.

It turns out that it is actually many years since I have made this particular chocolate truffle cake - the lovely boyfriend was intrigued as I whipped it up because he's never had one. He's such a chocoholic cakey pig I'm surprised it's never been on the menu for him because he would love it. I'll save him a slice.

Truffière de Chocolat

50g/2oz caster sugar
50ml/2oz water
50ml/20z dark rum
2 egg whites
60g/2 1/4oz caster sugar
2 egg yolks
10g/1/4oz unsweetened cocoa powder
50g/2oz plain flour, sieved
10g/1/4oz unsalted butter, melted
100g/4oz maya spiced green & black chocolate - or use plain if you can't find it
250g/10 oz bitter chocolate
500ml/18fl oz whipping cream

Make a stock syrup by putting the water into a samll pan then add 50g caster sugar. Bring to the boil, skim off any impurities, then simmer till the sugar has dissolved. Measure 50ml then add the rum. Reserve.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. To make the sponge base, beat the egg whites until they reach soft peaks, then add the sugar gradually, continuously beating. When all the sugar is beaten in, whisk in the egg yolks. Finally fold in the flour and cocoa delicately, followed by the melted butter. Pour into a lined 25cm/10" spring form pan, spread evenly to a 1cm/ 1/2" thickness. Cook in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Put the sponge base back into the springform pan and, with a pastry brush, dampen it with the sugar/rum mix.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bowl placed over a bain-marie. Keep the water temperature low or the chocolate will granulate. Stir and make sure allo f the chocolate has melted. Cool slightly.

Separately in a large bowl, whip the cream. Briskly mix one quarter of the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate, then pour the mixture into the bulk of the whipped cream. Fold in gently with a spatula until just homogenised.

Pour the chocolate cream on to the rum soaked sponge base. Smooth the top. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Before you unmould it run a hot cloth around the outside of the pan. Undo the pan, lift off gently, slice and serve.

Good enough to party.

This Week

We lunched on sausage roll and scotch egg and then Saturday night we were out at the Tate sliding down Carsten Holler's slide before going for drinks with David. Don't know if it's art but it certainly is fun.

Sunday started gently with coffee and toast in the sun in the garden. Not hot but really pleasant till the neighbours started up the battle of the bands with Whitney belting out 'I will always love you' top volume to beat gospel from Mahalia Jackson and it was time for us to go out. Following what is becoming a habit we retreated to the Wheatsheaf for Sunday lunch. Word is spreading about how good it is - they were actually turning people away by about 2.30. Dinner was hot roast beef sandwiches - not hungry enough for more roast potatoes.

Monday - and all week again - cereals, yoghurt and coffee. Lunch was roast beef and potato salad and skinny crisp french beans till Wednesday then we were out again Monday night to see Kevin Spacey in Moon for the Misbegotten at the Old Vic - an excellent production but a little overwrought at the end.

Tuesday I'd been hankering for a little Chinese so we had Ma Po and sea spice aubergine and rice which serviced my desire - and the leftovers with roast beef next day for lunch was lovely

Wednesday was perfect penne with tomato, aubergine and mozzarella

Thursday we had leftover pasta for lunch and it was good cold as well as hot then Thursday night I had to finish making the choclate cake after I came in from French class so it was 9 pm when we sat down for sandwiches made with sesame flute from Paul with the last of the roast beef and some ripe, runny cheese and it was very good indeed

Friday lunch will have to be bought and there's fireworks on Clapham Common tonight - I love fireworks and all the attendant oohs and aaahs - and dinner might be pasta at home but only if we can't get into the Sea Cow for fish and chips

Had leftover veg this week with the leeks and broccoli and roasting potatoes not eaten but we may well have the leeks tonight, the potatoes should be okay and it's only the broccoli that will find its way into the bin

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Penne with Aubergine, Tomato and Mozzarella

The River Cafe in west London is something of an institution these days having produced some of the best Italian food in the land as well as providing work experience to the likes Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Their guiding principle of sourcing the very best to produce the very best and putting in vast amounts of energy and ingenuity to ensure an endlessly evolving process was unusual when they started out. Their unflagging commitment to this same principle twenty years on is a joy to witness.

As well as running the restaurant Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray have written six cook books and contribute generously to other magazines and newspapers so that we can all eat well and learn new techniques and combinations. In the last month's Observer Food Magazine the theme was making perfect versions of various things like roast chicken and beef stew. The recipes for the various perfect pastas on offer were written by these two amazing women and so came with a gold plated guarantee. The first one I have made is perfect penne.

Pasta with aubergine, tomato and mozzarella

Serves 4

350g penne
2 aubergines, thinly sliced
500g plum tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
250g mozzarella, freshly grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
extra-virgin olive oil

Lay the sliced aubergines on kitchen paper and sprinkle with sea salt. Leave for 20 minutes to allow the bitter juices to drain. Rinse in cold water and pat dry.

Heat 3 tbs of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Add the garlic and parsley and cook until soft. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the chillies and 2 tsp of sea salt, and cook over a medium heat for 20 minutes.

Heat 4 tbs of olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed frying pan. Fry the aubergines in batches until brown and crisp on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper. Cook the penne in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, return to the pan and add the tomato sauce. Stir to coat, then add the aubergine and finally the mozzarella. Serve immediately.

Cold for lunch the next day it was perfection revisited.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pock-Marked Woman's Bean Curd

Great name for a dish, no? I find it irresistible as apparently did the local Hunanese in whichever of the myriad versions of how the dish acquired its name. A common version is that Ma Pó was a poor woman badly scarred by leprosy who lived on the outskirts of Chengdu at some time between 1800 and last month who survived by hawking this wondrous combination of silky bean curd, minced pork (or in some versions beef or lamb) and vast amounts of chilli and a final spicing of crushed szechuan pepper before serving.

Another version has it created in the first year of the Tongzhi reign (1862) of the Qing Dynasty by Chen Xingsheng Restaurant. The main chef was the wife of Chen Chunfu whose name has been lost in the mists of time, but was known then - and now - for her pockmarked face, a result of small pox, hence the name. She is said to have prepared this spicy, aromatic dish for labourers who laid down their loads of cooking oil to eat lunch on their way to the city's markets. Later the restaurant was renamed as the Pockmarked Chen Grandma's Bean Curd Restaurant, which became famous far and wide.

It was one of Mao Zedong's favourite dishes. Mao's successor, Deng Zhou Peng loved it too, preferring it with equal quantities of chilli and pork - he's a braver man than me!

This version comes from Fuchsia Dunlops 'Sichuan Cookery'.

Pock-marked Mother Chen's beancurd 'ma po dou fu'

1 block of beancurd (about 500g)
4 baby leeks or spring onions
100ml groundnut oil
150g minced beef or pork
2½ tablespoons Sichuanese chilli bean paste
1 tablespoon black fermented beans
2 teaspoons ground Sichuanese chillies (only for chilli fiends)
250ml vegetable stock
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
salt to taste
3 tablespoons potato flour mixed with 4 tablespoons cold water
½ teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper

Cut the beancurd into 2cm cubes and leave to steep in very hot or gently simmering water which you have lightly salted. Slice the leeks or spring onions at a steep angle into thin 'horse-ear' slices.

Season the wok, then add the groundnut oil and heat over a high flame until smoking. Add the minced beef and stir-fry until it is crispy and a little brown, but not yet dry.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until the oil is a rich red colour. Add the black fermented beans and ground chillies and stir-fry for another 20-30 seconds until they are both fragrant and the chillies have added their colour to the oil.

Pour in the stock, stir well and add the drained beancurd. Mix it in gently by pushing the back of your ladle or wok scoop gently from the edges to the centre of the wok - do not stir or the beancurd may break up. Season with the sugar, a couple of teaspoons of soy sauce and salt to taste. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the beancurd has absorbed the flavours of the sauce.

Add the leeks or spring onions and gently stir in. When they are just cooked, add the potato flour mixture in two or three stages, mixing well, until the sauce has thickened enough to cling glossily to the meat and beancurd. Don't add more than you need. Finally, pour everything into a deep bowl, scatter with the ground Sichuan pepper and serve.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I Bought

Saturday was dim and overcast and the market was quiet early on which was nice. We started off, as always, at Ginger Pig. I wanted a piece of beef to roast on Sunday, and for leftovers for lunches. John suggested top rump - and it was a truly beautiful piece of meat, deep red, ridged with a barding of fat - perfect for my needs. Also bought some minced pork, smoked oyster bacon and eggs for a total of £19.20

Next was juice from Total Organics - the classic combination of carrot, apple and ginger - and that was all because they had no barley - £3

We strolled over to the other side and had a chat with Marie at Borough Olives - she told us funny stories about trying to encourage punters to ask for a sample rather than help themselves with their 'goodness knows what they last used those for' hands.

Next was leeks from what I have discovered is Ted's Veg - till now known as the veg stall out the back - £1.20

Apples from Chegworth Farm - early on they always have the longest queues but the wait is worth it - £1.18

2 aubergines - or obo's according to the sign - £1 - from the veg stall in the row near the Cathedral. Don't often buy from them as they sell multiples usually and I'm not entirely convinced of the quality

Mozzarella and a sheet of San Daniel ham from Gastronomica - £7.50

Potatoes, beans, onions, purple sprouting broccoli, beetroot from Booths - £6.50

Back past the Ginger Pig for a sausage roll and a scotch egg - as with all things from there they are huge as well as fabulous because size is important - £6

Neals Yard for milk and bread £5.50

A very reasonable £51.08

Friday, October 27, 2006

This Week

After a major blowout on the giant sausage roll for lunch on Saturday consumed whilst getting the housework done in a flash, we had a pleasant afternoon at the theatre with the lovely boyfriend's folks and then home to pink champagne and smoked salmon on rye, spiced lamb with dill rice and roasted butternut and ginger cake and caerphilly.

Sunday we had appple juice and toast and coffee before walking over to Tate Britain to see the Holbein exhibition. It was impressive in its scope and its detail and interesting in the way that this German artist defines, still, the imagery of the court of Henry VIII. After waving the parents off to their coach home we caught the spotted catamaran from one Tate to the other, not for more culture but to have lunch at the Wheatsheaf. A very fine roast lamb and all the veg. Well fed at lunch we had a platter of leftovers garnished with the scotch egg for supper.

Breakfast for the week were the usual, coffee and cereals and yoghurt. Lunch for the first few days was poached chicken, rice salad and sugar snaps - a delicate medley of flavours and textures. Monday night we had bean and barley soup with thin slices of buttered rye bread - an absolutely perfect repast on a wet autumn night.

Tuesday we went to a private view of the photographs 'In the Face of History' at the Barbican. We started with a glass of wine in the Garden Room - and I was astounded to discover that there is a semi tropical garden under a glassed atrium in the centre of the Barbican. It's a full on forest. The exhibition was interesting but badly curated. On the way home we hopped off the bus at Elephant and went for a pizza at Castello's - a most extraordinary place of brown brick and tile that feels for all the world like eating in a 1970's tv cop show. They serve a bloody good pizza.

Wednesday we had pasta with broccoli and chilli for supper and the leftovers cold for lunch next day.

Thursday I had a French class and the lovely boyfriend went out for leaving drinks with people from work so we met up at home for blissfully good grilled prok chops, boiled pink fir apple potatoes and peas.

Friday I'm out for lunch to try a local Vietnamese place - Xich Lô - sadly the presentation is much better than the food - and we're having bean soup for supper.

Not much left over this week apart from some salad and eggs but they will be used, possibly for cake.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bean and Barley Soup

Bron says bean, barley and bacon broth is brilliant when the weather is bleak. Autumn is here, the light is going, the rain seems set to stay. This particular soup, which takes a little while to cook, makes you feel, as you eat it, that someone kind is gently rubbing your back and massaging the tensions from your shoulders. It really is that good.

The beans I used are haricot tarbais - probably unavailable in London but a local treasure in the Gers in France. Grown in the Bigorre region at the foot of the Pyrenees they are still cultivated in the traditional manner growing up stems of corn and picked by hand. They are a flattish kidney shaped bean, creamy white in colour and light and creamy when cooked. Use borlotti beans in their place, or cannellini beans.

This recipe is a conflation of various others as a way of using some ingredients I had. Having just poached a chicken for lunches I had fresh stock and I wanted to cook the beans before they got old and dry and too too chewy. Mixed with the basic idea of french/italian peasant soups it is really a great soup for cold nights. Cooking the barley with the smoked bacon flavours the grain which, when added to the rest of the soup, gives it texture. Use this as a template rather than following it exactly.

Bean & Barley Soup

150g/5oz dried cqnnellini or borlotti beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 medium potato, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
Bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley, sage, rosemary and celery leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
125g/4oz pearl barley
150g/5oz smoked bacon, chopped into 1cm/1/2inch pieces
1 litre/1 1/2pints fresh chicken stock

Drain and rinse the beans and put them into a heavy based pot. Add all the vegetables, the herbs and garlic. Add the stock, bring to a simmer and cook, covered for 2 hours at the lowest heat.

Rinse the barley under cold water then put it into another pan with the bacon and cover with a litre of cold water. Bring to the boil, skim then simmer for about an hour.

Discard the bouquet garni from the beans and, using a slotted spoon, take out half the beans. Puree the rest of the soup base, return the beans to the pan and add the barley/bacon with their liquid. Mix well, adjust the seasoning and simmer for 10 minutes. If it is too thick, add a little more stock or water.

Serve in large bowls, with bread to mop it all up.

This makes enough for 6 big bowls, but will freeze well in smaller batches for instant dinner another night.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Boiled Ginger Cake

The parents of my sweetheart came down for the weekend for a matinee of Brecht's Galileo at the National Theatre and then dinner at home. I planned to have a fairly simple meal that could mostly be prepared in advance as we didn't get home from the theatre till nearly 6pm. We had smoked salmon on thick warm slices of hoxton rye with a glass of pink champagne then roast spiced lamb and to finish, rather than a pudding, I wanted to have cheese.

To save the platter from being too simple I found a recipe for boiled ginger cake that makes a perfect accompaniment to caerphilly and to softish sheepy cheese. It comes from that doyenne of middle class pleasure Constance Spry who ran a school in the 1920's teaching teenage factory workers one day a week how to cook and other homemaking skills, including flower arranging. This version is an adaptation from Rose Prince's book 'The New English Kitchen'.

It is a very simple cake to make and the treacle makes it rich and sticky like burnt toffee and it offsets the cheese perfectly. It added a really interesting end to the meal.

Boiled Ginger Cake

120g/4oz butter
120g/4oz soft brown sugar
120g/4oz sultanas
2 tbspns water
300g/10oz black treacle
1 1/2 tspn ground ginger
2 eggs
180g/6oz plain flour
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
60g/20z ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Put the butter, sugar, sultanas, water and black treacle into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes then set aside to cool. Beat in the ginger, then the eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour with the bicarb of soda and ground almonds and fold in well.

Turn the mixture into a greased 20cm/8 inch square cake tin and bake for an hour. Cool on a wire rack. Make it at least one day in advance - it improves the wonderfulness of it.

This fits very firmly into a category that I call savoury sweet things - it has all the usual ingredients for cakey things but produces something that is not exclusively sweet but rather goes very well with the non sweet. A category in which I sometimes find even myself.