Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Grilled Beef and Noodle Salad

Bank holiday weekend - so the weather was bound to be bad - and this belief is enough to make me splash out on steak. Because I love a good steak and any excuse will do. With rump I buy a piece that is thick - at least an inch thick - and it usually comes in at well over a kilo in weight. The steak I bought on Saturday was close to a kilo and a half - serious meat. It is expensive - £17 - but we get two meals from it and the pleasure is sublime.

Cooking the steak is simplicity itself. I heat my ridged cast iron pan on the highest flame for at least five minutes, then season the meat, cut it in half and put the pieces into the pan. Cook on the high heat for 4-5 minutes each side, then turn off the heat and leave the steak in the pan for another 5 minutes to rest. It will be seared on the outside and fairly rare in the centre. Serve with salad and a glass of red. Bliss.

But a lot of meat - too much in fact to eat in a single meal. Next day, the leftovers make a brilliant salad with noodles and a sweet salty dressing that comes from the brilliant book Spice by the Australian chef Christine Manfield.

Grilled Beef & Noodle Salad

12 cloves garlic, peeled
vegetable oil
2 tspns white sesame seeds
4 little Japanese aubergine
500g fresh egg noodles
1/4 cup mint leaves shredded
1/4 cup thai basil leaves, shredded
3 spring onions, finely sliced
2 cups watercress sprigs
leftover grilled rump steak, thinly sliced

Soy dressing
20 ml light soy sauce
1 tspn sesame oil
20ml lemon juice
25 ml Chinese rice vinegar
35 ml mirin
30ml sugar syrup (heat equal quantities of caster sugar and water till dissolved)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Shallow fry garlic cloves in oil until golden and soft, then drain on paper towels. Dry roast sesame seeds over gentle heat until just coloured, then cool. To make the dressing combine all the ingredients and whisk together.

Quarter the little aubergines lengthwise, score the flesh and brush with oil (I use the garlic oil from the previous step) then grill until softened and golden.

Cook noodles in boiling salted water for 2 minutes, drain and refresh. Put the noodles into a bowl with half the dressing.

In another bowl, mix garlic cloves with the herbs, spring onions and watercress then add the meat and spoon in enough dressing to coat leaves and beef lightly.

Pile noodles into bowls, sit grilled aubergines on top. Arrange beef and salad over this then drizzle over a little more dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Glazed Gammon

Gammon is pork from the hind leg of the animal cured in brine while it is still attached to the side of the pig. Historically, before the advent of refrigeration, fresh pork was not much eaten for fear that it was bad but it was instead cured to make gammon and ham and bacon and in such form was hugely popular. Gammon is fabulous for many things - as a simple supper with fried eggs and, if the lovely boyfriend has his way, chips. It's great cut into thick slices between thick slices of crusty bread - mustard optional. I really like it with creamy potato salad and it is perfect in lunchboxes with brown rice salad and a few crisp sugarsnaps. It's inexpensive to buy and easy to cook and it gives you so much pleasure. It is a perennial favourite.

When cooking it really needs to be simmered for at least part of the time so that it will be juicy and tender but it takes very well to being glazed and finished off in the oven. To glaze a piece of gammon you need to take the skin off after it has been cooked - it is really easy to do with a sharp knife. Then you cut the fat - and it should have a nice ridge of creamy fat for flavour and succulence - into diamonds by simply slicing at an angle across the top of the meat then slicing at the reverse angle to make crisscrosses. This is really easy and when it is finished it is so impressive - it's a pleasure to see.

Glazed Gammon

1 piece of unsmoked gammon about 1 1/2 kg
1 onion - unpeeled and halved
1 large carrot - roughly chopped
1 stick celery - roughly chopped
Bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and a bayleaf
10 peppercorns
10 cloves

For the glaze
50ml honey
50ml port
2 tbspns brown sugar
30-40 cloves

Put the gammon into a large pan with the aromatics and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil and skim any scum that floats to the surface. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for around 90 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to cool for 15 minutes in the liquid - or completely if you're not ready to glaze it.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200C/400F. Place the meat on a board and when cool enough to handle cut the skin off as thinly as possible with a very sharp knife then cut score the fat at an angle all the way across then again at the opposite angle to make a diamond pattern across the meat. Push a clove into the centre of each diamond. Rub the brown sugar into the fat. Heat the honey and port till it simmers. Put the gammon into a roasting pan and pour the honey/port mix over. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes till deep gold but keep an eye on it - the sweet glaze can catch and burn quite easily.

Remove from the oven, cover with foil and when cool, refrigerate overnight.

Unveil and expect applause for the magnificence of this dish!

I Bought

We were running a little late this week and even though the weather was stormy Borough Market was busy. Mostly people shopping but even at 9.30 there were lots of tourists - makes it slower to get around. In some ways they have shaped the market more than people like me who shop regularly with lots of prepared food and snacks now being sold to cater to the tourist desire to 'experience'. I feel sorry for the stallholders who spend the day surrounded by literally thousands of people stuffing their faces - you can see how you'd get sick of it.


I bought some boned chicken thighs from Wyndham Poultry - there is a guy who works there who obviously derives great pleasure from wielding his knife and boned my chicken pieces in moments - £3.50 and the performance was free

I bought an inch thick slice of rump steak and a lovely piece of gammon and eggs at Ginger Pig for £24

Pork pie - medium - £4.50

Baby plum tomatoes - £3.50

2 punnets of small sweet strawberries - £2

Coarse ground mince and thin beef sausages from Wild Beef - £6.70

Lettuce, peppers, aubergine, onions, sugar snaps, cucumber from Booths - £6.20

Carrots from Total Organics - 90p

Bananas from Tony - 50p

Nectarines from Elsey & Bent - £1

Bread and milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £8

And lastly of course - a chocolate brownie - £1.50

£62.40 for the week - even with the decadence of steak

Friday, August 25, 2006

This Week

Not a hugely exciting week but it did have the pleasure of a heart of lasagne to ward offf the increasing chill in the air - even though it's still bloody August - we need more summer.

Saturday we went to Suffolk to visit the lovely boyfriend's parents who were also being visited by his sister and her two little kids. We had volunteered to make dinner and so we started with drinks in the garden in a moment of sunshine with nibbles of olives and cheese and very civilised it was too. Then we had LOTS of Ginger Pig sausages - chippolatas for the littlies - and roasted aubergine salad, potato salad, roasted red onion and beans, green salad and a big bowl of red and orange cherry tomatoes sitting jewel like in the middle. Philippa, the youngest of the party, had seen a picture of avocado and cress salad in a recipe book and proclaimed her desire to have some so her mother had been to Tesco to buy the necessary and, using this supermarket produce, I whipped it up as the final dish. It was very pretty to look at - and tasted of absolutely nothing. Bizarre. But then it's what you get if your produce is grown for appearance and not flavour.

Sunday we had lunch in the elegant surrounds of the conservatory at Ickworth House before the schlepp back to London and hot sausage sarnies for supper. Lovely.

Monday was cereals and coffee for breakfast - same all week. Lunch was cold sausages and salad and dinner was roast chicken with barley and herb stuffing and new potatoes and spinach. The chicken was the corn fed bird from Wyndham Poultry which I normally poach successfully. It was okay roasted but lacked the firm texture of a better reared chicken - cheaper but once again, you get what you pay for. It works better poached in much the same way that braising steak is not great fried but is lovely slow cooked in red wine and garlic.

Tuesday we had cold chicken and stuffing and salad for lunch, then a gloriously fabulous mushroom and asparagus lasagne for supper

Wednesday we had barley pots for lunch - I had made too much stuffing for the chicken so I cooked the overflow in little ramekins in a bain-marie. They went well with salad. Leftover lasagne - dinner in no time!

Thursday salads for lunch, then roasted duck legs (from the freezer) with potatoes roasted in the same pan to cook in the duck fat and a serving of spinach. This was a modified version of what I'd intended as a fairly ambitious supper of boulangere potatoes made with apple as well as onions and potatoes as a base underneath the roasting duck but I realised we wouldn't eat till about 9.30 by the time I conjured all that - so I abandoned that plan after going no further than tears over sliced onions. It was not as good as my original plan but we did eat long before falling asleep.

Friday my sweetheart had a cheese roll from the freezer with biscuits and fruit for his lunch and I had a boiled egg and salad - I'd forgotten how much I like boiled eggs - might become a regular lunch... Tonight it will be the last of the lasagne with a green salad and a glass of red to celebrate Bank Holiday weekend.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cheese & Spinach Omelette

A really quick and easy dish for a midweek supper that is also elegant and quite luscious. Late in the week it's straightforward to buy a packet of baby leaf spinach from the supermarket - though it annoys me that it is packaged and I wonder what else is added to make it stay fresh for days on end - but I do buy it occasionally so, like most people my actions don't always match the heights of my pontifications.

The cheese needs to be soft but well flavoured - a chevre for example, but goat's cheese is on the list of things the lovely boyfriend doesn't eat so I use rochetta or pie d'angelou to very good effect. I haven't tried it but I imagine a ripe stilton would make for a pretty amazing winter dish. The cheese and eggs make this quite rich - with a little salad and bread it is a substantial supper. And ready in no time.

Cheese & Spinach Omelette

2 good handfuls of baby spinach leaves, about 50g
2 tbspns olive oil
4 large free range eggs
20g butter, diced
100g good soft cheese, with rind
2 tbspns freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and ground black pepper

Preheat the grill to medium. Put the spinach into a saucepan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and place over a low heat for about 30 seconds until lightly wilted, take off the heat and drain on kitchen paper. Tease the cooked leaves apart.

Beat the eggs in a bowl till evenly blended but don't season. Put a 21cm omelette pan over a high heat and, when hot add the remaining olive oil and swirl round the base then drop in the diced butter and allow to foam. Pour in the eggs. Using a fork - metal if it won't damage the pan - stir the egg mixture round the pan. When it is two-thirds set stop stirring with the fork. Pinch the soft cheese into pieces and scatter these and the spinach leaves onto the surface of the omelette. Season lightly and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Now place the omelette pan under the grill until the top is lightly set and the cheese is golden. Remove from the heat and loosen the edges with a palette knife. Cut into wedges and serve.

This recipe comes from Gordon Ramsay's Secrets - which proves that even those weighed down with Michelin stars don't necessarily create meals that cost an absolute fortune. But they always make memorable food.

Mushroom & Asparagus Lasagne

Pasta is king. Endlessly versatile, it seems to go with almost infinite numbers of ingredients, hot or cold, light or creamy, meat or veg, quick to cook or it can take much longer. Of the slow to make dishes my favourite is far and away lasagne.

When I was a teenager we lived in a small city with a big Italian migrant population. In the school holidays it was always a special treat to go to the Italian Centre for lunch with my Dad and have scallops followed by lasagne. Most of the other diners were Italians - eating there was always a convivial affair. It no doubt added depth to my love affair with lasagne. But eating it in many other places since, some great some horrible, has made me know more versions than the delicate meat and ricotta version of the Italian Centre all those years ago in Wollongong.

I now have two favourites that I make at home - one is strictly for winter made with a base of oxtail slow cooked in red wine and the other is for almost any time - mushroom and asparagus. I have been making it for many years and it has always been a hit with whoever I serve it to. I think it is the subtle combination of flavours and textures - it harks back to the delicacy of the ones I used to lunch on all those years ago.

Mushroom & Asparagus Lasagne

500g/1lb of large field mushrooms, sliced
350g/12oz jar of asparagus
80g/3oz butter
2 tins plum tomatoes
1 large onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon plain flour
450ml/1 pint whole milk
100g/4oz grated hard cheese - this time I used caerphilly that was leftover from last week
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
No cook sheets of egg lasagne

I find it best to make the tomato sauce the day before - it gives depth to the sauce and makes it quicker on the day. Gently fry the onion and 3 crushed garlic cloves in the olive oil till soft. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up if they are whole, and the rosemary and bay, and season. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for 40 minutes.

Cut the mushrooms into slices about the size of your little finger. Melt half the butter in a heavy pan, add the mushrooms and stir to coat with melted butter. Grind some black pepper over, reduce the heat and cover. Cook until the mushrooms give up their juices, stirring occasionally. Simmer uncovered to reduce the liquid by about half. Check seasoning.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the remaining butter and add the last crushed garlic clove. Stir briefly then sprinkle on the flour. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes over a low heat till the flour is a warm biscuity colour. This is important because otherwise the flour will taste raw and the sauce will be a big disappointment. When the roux is cooked slowly add the milk a bit at a time, stirring to incorporate it into the flour. Keep adding and stirring until you have a smooth light sauce. Add all but a tablespoon of grated cheese and increase the heat. Stir till it's all melted and smooth. Grate about half a teaspoon of nutmeg into the sauce, mix then taste and adjust the seasoning.

Now build your dish. In a 23 x 35cm/9 x 13in pan line the base with the drained spears of asparagus and the cooked mushrooms, with their juice. Then cover with a layer of lasagne sheets. Next is the tomato sauce - after you've removed the rosemary and bay - then another layer of pasta. Finally top with the cheese sauce and sprinkle on the last of the grated cheese.

Bake in a moderate oven at gas 4/350F/175C for 40 - 50 minutes till the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden. Leave to settle for a minute then serve with crusty bread and salad. This will make 6 servings.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I Bought

A corn fed chicken from the Wyndham Poultry Company - £5
Lots of sausages - we were making dinner for 7 - and 6 eggs from Ginger Pig - £23
Duck saucisse and a wedge of blue cheese from the French cheese stall - £5
A piece of Comte from Borough Cheese - £6.50
A large tub of fat green olives with taragon and garlic from Borough Olives £4
500g pack of mince from Wild Beef £3
Red and orange cherry tomatoes from Isle of Wight - £6
Potatoes, beans, sugarsnaps, cucumber, aubergines, parsley, lettuce, field mushrooms from Booths - £12
8 red onions from Tony's - £2
500g dark roasted Colombian coffee beans from Monmouth Coffee £8.50
Milk and bread from Neal's Yard - £6.50
Chocolate brownie - £1.50

Couldn't get an unsmoked ham hock anywhere - had a plan to have hock and white beans for lunch but it was not to be

So £83 this week - olives and cheeses and sausages were all for dinner with the Lovely Boyfriend's family - so that added a little to the bill

Friday, August 18, 2006

This Week

Because my sweetheart was a sicky boy on the weekend Saturday night was just a large platter of nibbly things - mozzarella, parma ham, bread, salad - much like we'd had through the day

Sunday was toast and coffee, lunch was fish and chips at the Sea Cow (he was feeling a little better) and dinner was a bit of a disaster. I grilled the sausages, which as always, were lovely and I made lentils to go with them and there in lay the problem. I had found a packet of lentils du puy at the back of the cupboard and decided they would be okay so long as I cooked them a little longer than usual. So I added some red wine and bacon and fennel and simmered them and simmered them and simmered them. An hour later I abandoned hope - they were like well scented pebbledash. I also made a fabulous banana and walnut cake that lasted the week as a sweet treat in the lunch boxes

Monday - coffee and cereals all week for breakfast, cold sausage and salad for lunch, and Chinese for tea - tofu with chilli and soy, sea spice aubergines and rice

Tuesday - rice and aubergine for lunch, stir fry pork noodles for dinner - the trip to the Chinese supermarket created a mini theme to start the week

Wednesday - salad for lunch, dinner was an oddity. I had seen a recipe a few weeks ago for curing a piece of beef with salt and sugar and spices that intrigued me so I duly made up the mix and coated the piece of skirt and put it into the fridge for three days. The cure mix did its work and drew an extraordinary amount of moisture from the meat - by Wednesday it looked like road kill in city gutter slush after a week of snow. I washed it off, patted it dry and seared it briefly in hot olive oil. We had it thinly sliced with salad and crusty bread and it was okay - but odd. It would work well on an hors d'ouevres platter, or possibly with middle eastern things like baba ghanoush and olives (the spicing was coriander and cumin). I might use the rest shredded into a noodle salad with hot and sour dressing to balance the sweet and salty.

Thursday - I bought extra bread yesterday so we had cheese and mango chutney rolls for lunch and, using the spectacularly expensive courgettes as well as some aubergine, peppers, cherry tomatoes, onion, garlic and herbs we had roasted vegetable pasta for dinner

Friday - cold pasta for lunch and probably spinach omelette tonight

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Stir Fry Pork & Noodles

One of the few omissions at Borough Market is a supplier of Asian ingredients, or indeed any non European basics. French, Italian, Spanish, Polish are all well represented and catered for but the wider world isn't really. You can of course buy chillies and ginger and coriander and any cut of meat you need but it's the other bits - fresh slithery egg noodles, shaoxing wine, delicate grains of basmati rice, treacly dark soy that are indispensable to the process of making Asian dishes.

I tend to shop for what I need either in Chinatown on the edge of Soho where the choice is huge to the point of overwhelming or else in the Chinese supermarket in Atlantic Road on the edge of Brixton market. I love roaming the aisles of Lee Ho Fook and New Moon because there are always so many things I have never tried and have maybe heard of and many more that I have never even heard of - so I'll have new things to look for in recipes, to make other connections. And then my cooking and food knowledge evolves. I was in Brixton Saturday afternoon so I spent a happy half hour browsing, then bought a few essentials, as well as tofu and noodles for some dishes I was planning for the week.

I love eating Asian food - it has a whole other range of perfumes and textures and flavours and is somehow delicate and robust simultaneously. I enjoy cooking Asian dishes - they are different to most European dishes with so much preparation being able to be done first then often really quick cooking times with flavour coming from marinades and aromatics rather than slow cooking making it an easy option mid week after work and a treat always.

Stir Fry Pork & Noodles

350g/12oz pork fillet, thinly sliced
1 tbspn shoaxing wine
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, chopped finely
1 tbspn ginger, grated
2 tbspn groundnut oil
1 tbspn dark soy
2 tbspn fish sauce
1/2 cup water
500g packet of fresh egg noodles
500g pak choi
1 tbspn oyster sauce
3 spring onions, green part chopped
Handful fresh coriander, chopped

Soak the sliced pork in the rice wine while you chop the rest of the ingredients. Rinse the noodles in a colander to separate them. Separate the leaves of the bok choy and rinse. It is best to prepare everything before you start cooking. Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat till very hot, briefly stir fry the chilli, ginger and garlic then add the pork and stir fry till the meat changes colour. Add the noodles, soy and fish sauce, stir to coat everything, then add the water. When it simmers, reduce the heat, cover and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Uncover the noodles, return the heat to high and add the pak choi and the oyster sauce. Stir fry till the leaves wilt then toss through the spring onions and coriander and serve immediately.

Fabulous supper with less than 10 minutes cooking.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Banana & Walnut Cake

I'm not normally one for making cakes - or even desserts very often. Needs a special occasion to motivate me - usually guests. When I was a school girl I used to love making biscuits and slices and cakes largely because I could lick the bowl and snaffle great mouthfuls of icing when no one was looking. Unfettered greed indulged. On Sunday afternoons my sister and I would take it in turns to bake our party piece - mine was butterfly cup cakes while Jane usually made rock cakes, then the whole family would gather for afternoon tea and scoff the lot with a big pot of tea. After a blow out Sunday lunch not actually sure how we managed it! In my teenage years I used to bake biscuits and things for school lunches but once school was done so was the home-made baking.

Every now and again I get the urge to do it again. This week, maybe because the lovely boyfriend had been poorly, and because he eats lots of biscuits (that I buy in packets, mostly Duchy of Cornwall because Prince Charles makes them himself with his own fair hands) I decided to make a banana and walnut cake. It's more of a loaf really and I had some walnuts in the cupboard that I'd brought back from France and I bought a big bunch of bananas at Borough Market so it all came together. It makes a seriously good cake that is gorgeously moist.

The recipe comes from googling 'banana cake recipe' - was there life before google? It is from the Waitrose site but is in fact a recipe from Sue Dykes, head baker of the tea rooms at the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Wisley. Quintessential place for inspirational cake.

Banana & Walnut Cake

"In the café, we serve this with a rich topping," says Sue. "Make your own by beating 75g softened butter and 125g full-fat soft cheese with 200g sifted icing sugar and a dash of vanilla extract."

Makes 1 x 900g loaf

Preparation time: 30 minutes Cooking time: 40-45 minutes

ripe bananas (about 400g)
150g softened butter
150g soft brown sugar
100g walnuts
300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
100ml vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Butter a 900g loaf tin and line the bottom and sides with non-stick baking parchment.

Peel and mash the bananas. Put the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and cream together until light and fluffy. Stir in the bananas and walnuts. Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the flour mix and the beaten egg, each about a third at a time, to the banana mix, beating well between each addition. Finally, stir in the oil.

Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until well risen and golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes a great cake - and a great deal of washing up - so be prepared! Technically speaking this is not exactly their recipe - they use 80g sultanas where I use walnuts but I prefer the texture and flavour of the nuts.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I Bought

6 ginger pig sausages, a piece of skirt steak to cure, a piece of pork fillet, and some unsmoked oyster bacon at the Ginger Pig - £23
Buffalo mozzarella and parma ham from the new Italian stall - £7.50
A pork pie from Mrs Elizabeth King - £4.50
Baby plum tomatoes - £3.50
Cucumber, onions, spring onions, sugar snap peas from Booths - £3.20
3 red peppers, 3 aubergine, and a bunch of bananas from Tony £3
3 courgettes from a local farm stall that always has glowingly good looking vegetables - £1.66 - which however good they taste cannot be value for money at the height of the summer
A hunk of caerphilly - £4.45
Carrots from Total Organics - 95p
Bread and milk at Neal's Yard - £4.50

The lovely boyfriend was ill - so this was a slightly truncated shop because I had to carry it all by myself

Total this week at Borough - £56.26

Friday, August 11, 2006

This Week

Saturday - we had bread and jam mid morning, pork pie and salad for lunch, and fabulous mussels with chorizo and coriander for supper

Sunday - we had our summer smoothies and coffee, nectarines and buffalo mozzarella and ciabatta for lunch and the best half of the red braised pork with rice for dinner

Monday - we had more smoothies, poached chicken, rice, tomatoes and raw thin little french beans for lunch - the beans were a big improvement on the thicker bobby beans I'd used (once!) the week before - and for lunch each day till Friday - and curried vegetables and rice for supper

Tuesday - Coffee, cereals, yoghurt with cooked berries for breakfast for the rest of the week, I was out with a friend in the evening so Giles had asparagus soup from the freezer and some rye bread - which was a lot better than the icky burger I had...

Wednesday - we had the other serving of the red pork with rice

Thursday - I fancied a decent burger - so we had burgers with roasted red onion and green bean salad and a new and different potato salad made by cooking the potatoes in stock and olive oil and cider vinegar that was good, but didn't translate so well the next day

Friday - lunch was leftover salads - the beans/onion combo was lovely, the potato less so, but the tomatoes were sweet and juicy so lunch was okay, dinner will be pasta

And that lovely hunk of watermelon? It tasted of almost nothing - there was just enough flavour to give a hint of how good it should have been. Major disappointment. So I puréed it and mixed in some pomegranate molasses and grenadine syrup and froze it in the hope that it would make a passable granita. It didn't. Some you lose.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Red Braised Pork

Fuchsia Dunlop is the most talented non-Asian exponent of Sichuan food around - and it was with some delight that I found she was doing the recipe page in the Observer recently. She's a joy to read because she is so deeply knoweldgeable, she provides all manner of interesting information about the food, its history and narratives. All her recipes sound fabulous. The first one I chose to make was red braised pork - a favourite of Chairman Mao apparently, and a central dish in Hunan province cuisine. A deep glossy red and intensely flavoured, once you've eaten it it's easy to know why.

I bought a lovely piece of belly pork at the Ginger Pig, it was about a kilo in weight so I planned to make a double quantity and freeze half for another time. All was going well, I blanched the meat, toffeed the sugar, watched the meat take on its rich colour when added to the pan, pottered happily in the kitchen wrapped in the delicate aromas of the dish as it braised for nearly an hour, reducing down to a rich glossy sauce. I cooked some basmati rice, chopped the spring onion to toss in at the last moment and the final element, as dinner was almost ready, was to steam some leeks in an inch of water in a covered pan. Rather than freeze spring onions, I ladled half the pork out of the wok into a tub just as all was ready.

And then.... and then...

My sweetheart, who likes being in the kitchen while I cook, and is generally happy chopping and stirring and basting whatever needs it, offered at that moment to help. I was draining the rice and so suggested he stir the spring onions through the pork. He seemed hesitant and said he thought they'd be better separate and, with my back to him while I was at the sink I said no, add them now, they'll just wilt a fraction in the heat. I know not what possessed him - he is after all a man who knows his onions - but he picked up my little pan of steaming leeks and tippped them, water and all, into the meat. I was gobsmacked. Disaster for a dinner. A look of horrified comprehension passed over the lovely boy's face.

We did eat dinner - the half that I'd already removed from the pan with rice and a sprinkling of spring onions over the top. It was extraordinarily good. I sort of rescued the other half - I drained the contents of the pan through a colander, skimmed the fat from the juices and added them back into the meat (and leeks!) and we had it for dinner later in the week. My lovely glossy reduction was a bit disappointing rehydrated but it was okay. The delightful boyfriend is a little more hesitant about his helping but it could have been worse - stuff happens!

Red Braised Pork

500g belly pork (skin optional)
2 tbsp groundnut oil
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine (or medium dry sherry)
20g fresh ginger, skin left on and sliced
1 star anise
2 dried red chillies
a small piece cassia bark or cinnamon stick
light soy sauce,
salt and sugar
a few lengths spring onion greens

Plunge the pork into a pan of boiling water and simmer for 3-4 minutes until partially cooked. Remove and, when cool enough to handle, cut into bite-sized chunks.
Heat the oil and white sugar in a wok over a gentle flame until the sugar melts, then raise the heat and stir until the melted sugar turns a rich caramel brown. Add the pork and splash in the Shaoxing wine.

Add enough water to just cover the pork, along with the ginger, star anise, chillies, cassia and salt to taste. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce and season with soy sauce and a little sugar to taste. Add the spring onion greens just before serving.

It really is very good.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I Bought

A lovely piece of belly pork and six eggs from Ginger Pig - £8.20
A huge bag of mussels from Shell Seekers £6
Baby plum tomatoes from Isle of Wight - £3.50
2 punnets of Kent strawberries, a tub of cooked berries for breakfasts with yoghurt and an apple juice - £6
Chocolate brownie for Giles £1.50
Half a watermelon, potatoes, cucumber, spring onions, lettuce, leeks, delicate green beans from Booths £5.80
Buffalo mozzarella from the new Italian stall that sells only this and parma ham - both sublimely good versions of each product - £3.10
Ciabatta, milk and yoghurt from Neal's Yard - £8.40
Nectarines - £1.50 for a tub of 8 - they were a little underripe but smelt good and are ripening nicely in a paper bag
French corn fed chicken from the English poultry company to poach for lunches and to make some more stock for the freezer - £5
Pork pie from Mrs Elizabeth King - £4.50

Spent this week - £53.50

Friday, August 04, 2006

This Week

Saturday we had buffalo mozzarella and sliced nectarines for lunch, and char grilled scallops and salad with crusty bread for dinner - a real treat!

Sunday Giles made strawberry smoothies and coffee to go with reading the papers in bed, we had a pie from the square pie company in Selfridges while we were out and roast beef with boiled new potatoes and carrots and courgettes for supper - it makes for a much lighter meal than roasting vegetables which I like better at the end of a hot day

Monday more strawberry smoothies and coffee, cold roast beef with potato salad and tomatoes and chopped carrots for lunches till Thursday, we had falafel that I bought at the wonderful Green Valley store in Upper Berkeley Street, it is a magical place of all things Lebanese. I made some hummus and tabbouleh and beetroot salad and we stuffed hot pitta breads for a really sumptuous dinner

Tuesday and it's coffee and cereals and yoghurt for breakfast for the rest of the week, and we had omelette with the remains of the tabbouleh and beetroot with a sesame stick from Paul after seeing the remarkable 'Death of Mr Lazarescu' at the ICA.

Wednesday we had magret - I bought some duck breasts home from France that had been in the freezer and I cooked them slowly to rend the fat - it never fails to amaze me how much fat comes out on a flame not much hotter than blood heat - then sautéed new potatoes in the fat with a little rosemary and garlic and served it with a plain green salad - proper Gersois repast.

Thursday we had leftover duck and potatoes for lunch - quite a treat - and Thursday night we had a spicy courgette and tomato curry with rice for tea.

Friday it was a somewhat ascetic cold rice and salad veg for lunch and we were out in the evening at the largely uninspiring Future Cities exhibition at the Barbican then a nice supper at Alba in Whitecross Street.

Spicy Tomato and Courgettes

Mid week I like to have a few quick and cheerful dishes up my sleeve so that we still eat well and with lots of variety but it's good if it's not too complicated and time consuming - or messy from the lovely boyfriend's point of view as he's the one left with the washing up mountain (a fair division of labour I think!) When I lived alone I would almost always have a grilled steak or pork chop with salad - quick, simple, healthy and still one of my favourite meals. But you live with another and compromises have to be made - one of mine was that my sweetheart doesn't like to eat meat every day. Coming from Australia's vast meat consumption culture as I do it took me a while to believe him but now I no longer automatically default to grill and salad as my easy option. Though I do sometimes.

So now I have an ever evolving repertoire of pastas and rice dishes and egg dishes and curries and stir fries that keep us going. I like the clean hot flavours of a lot of Asian food - and it is a good source of inspiration for meals with little or no meat. Tomato and ginger are a brilliant combination - they meld to create a strong base for other vegetables and make a good liquid to soak into rice or noodles. Grating the courgettes means they cook quickly and add another texture to the dish. Serve spooned over bowls of steaming basmati rice.

Spicy Tomato & Courgette Sauce

1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 curry leaves, crushed between your fingers

1 tin peeled, chopped tomatoes
2 tbspns of ginger, peeled and grated

1 tbspn vegetable oil
750g/1 1/2lb courgettes, grated
Salt and pepper

Sauté the onion and garlic on a gentle heat for 10 minutes or so until it starts to colour. Add the grated ginger and fry for another minute or two then add the tomatoes and curry leaves and simmer gently for about twenty minutes. Add the grated courgettes and stir through. Cook for another 10 minutes to just meld the flavours then serve with rice.

Dinner in half an hour!