Friday, September 29, 2006

This Week

Saturday we had pork pie for lunch and then spicy mussels for dinner with crusty bread - good not but entirely great.

Sunday we had toast for breakfast then had lunch out with my friend Vicki who is over from Singapore and is always a joy to see. We went off to see the highly lauded but frankly dull Merce Cunningham at the Roundhouse - the highlight of the afternoon was walking through the crowds on Camden High Street just like there used to be 20 years ago and then home to grilled sausages and potato salad and the lovely boyfriend made spiced aubergine to go with.

Monday was coffee and cereal and yogurt for breakfast - same all week. Lunch was cold sausages and salad. With Vicki staying for a few days we had stuffed vine leaves and olives to snack on while we chatted, then spiced lamb and parsnip pudding and then I made a disaster. I read recently about making junket - which I used to love as a kid - and since it seemed very straightforward I bought some rennet, warmed some milk added rennet and sugar then started to stir. It started to coagulate then in no time at all it looked like a ball of mozzarella swimming in a bath of warm milk. Binned it - too sad. Perhaps some things are best left in the past. We finished with the last of the brie de meux instead

Tuesday we had cold lamb and parsnip pudding for lunch and smoked salmon on thick slices of hot hoxton rye with a glass of bubbly followed by celery soup then a large cheese plate on the basis that Vic has little access to fine cheese in Singa so this was a great excuse to pig out

Wednesday was salad for lunch and a brilliant dinner out at Le Cercle in Chelsea before watching the delightful Piano/Forte at the Royal Court - a very enjoyable night

Thursday it was boiled egg and salad for lunch, then quick as a flash courgette pasta for tea

Friday it's leftover pasta for lunch and I've defrosted the minute steaks from the other week for steak sandwiches with grilled onions and the last of the cheese for an easy end of week supper

Pretty much nothing left over or still frozen this week except for a few carrots that will be fine for next week

Courgette Pasta

This is a super fast dish and fabulous with it. I am back at night classes again very slowly learning French and get home around 8 o'clock. The lovely boyfriend has been home for a while and is pretty much ready for supper, moi aussi as 8 pm seems a long time since lunch. I had planned to have leftover celery soup from earlier in the week but there was none leftover, proving a fatal flaw to that particular plan. I did have a couple of courgettes, I always have pasta of some description in the cupboard and so, with a fresh chopped chilli, a crushed clove of garlic and a grating of Parmesan dinner is served.

Courgette Pasta

2 or 3 courgettes, about 500g/1lb in weight
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped or 1/2 tspn dried chilli flakes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbspn olive oil
1 tbspn butter
Pasta shapes you like
1 tbspn grated Parmesan

Put a big pan of salted water on to boil. Wash and slice the courgettes into rings the thickness of a pound coin. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy based pan over a gentle heat then add the garlic and chilli. Stir briefly then add the courgettes, grind over some black pepper and sprinkle with salt, stir to coat then cover and cook over a low heat.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente by which time the courgettes will also be ready.

Drain the pasta, reserving 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the courgettes along with the cooking and mix well then mix in the Parmesan and serve.

From announcing 'I'll make some supper' to putting steaming bowls onto the table takes twenty minutes - bliss.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mussels with chilli and black beans

I don't cook much fish - not knowing enough about it I must admit I find it a bit daunting. It is mostly expensive and easily ruined and seems somehow delicate in a way that meat and vegetables aren't. That's without even going into ethical questions about overfishing and the depletion of marine life or the pointlessness of bothering with something as disgusting as the flaccid flesh of farmed salmon.

But I have cooked mussels for years, partly because they are cheap and taste of the sea, partly because they are beautiful when cooked with their orange tongue of flesh nestling in shiny black shells swimming in a final bath of heady liquid. They are very quick to cook once they have been cleaned and always make for a spectacular presentation. I find it cheering the way they are always messy and sensual to eat - there is an elegance to using one pair of shells to scoop out the flesh of another and spoon up the juices while at the same time ending up to your elbows in it.

Continuing the week's themes of new recipes and liberal use of Chinesey flavours this was a good dish to eat - but not actually great. I probably won't make it again as is but I will investigate further and find something closer to a perfect marriage of sea and sour black beans and the prickling heat of chilli. Till then it is one worth trying.

Mussels with Chilli and Black Beans

1 kg/2-3 lbs mussels, cleaned and debearded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 jalapeno chillis, chopped (or thai birds eye chillis)
1 tablespoon fermented black beans
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup Thai holy basil, finely chopped
1 bunch garlic chives, chopped
salt, pepper to taste
2 limes, halved

Heat oil in a large wok or pot, add garlic, ginger, chillies and black beans and heat until softened, 2 minutes. Add wine and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add mussels, cover and cook for 5 minutes, rattling the pan once or twice until mussels open. Add tomatoes, fish sauce, basil, and garlic chives and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide between bowls, squeeze half lime over each and serve. Don't forget a big bowl for the table to collect the empty shells.

This needs nothing more than crusty bread and a spoon for the juices.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I Bought

The sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing and the lovely boyfriend had to stay home and wait for a man to come and paint the kitchen ceiling so after a quick coffee to boost my resolve I set off alone to Borough and - joy of joys - it wasn't specially busy yet so my path was relatively easy

At Ginger Pig John cut a whole shoulder of lamb into two for me, and bagged them separately so that one half can go straight into the freezer with nothing more than labelling, two garlic toulouse sausages to go with some we had in the freezer, eggs and some unsmoked oyster bacon - £19.90

A pork pie for weekend snacks - £4.50

A chat with Marie and a tub of stuffed vine leaves from Borough olives - £1.50 - special discount!

Apples from Chegworth Valley farm - finally realised that is the trading name of Kent apples (I'm nothing if not slow) - £1.10

A big runny slab of gorgonzola, a quarter of sheeps cheese spiked with truffles and a small disc of goats cheese from the Italian cheese stall - £11

Carrots from Total Organics - £1

Mussels from Shellseekers - £6

English rattes, courgettes, skinny green beans, my first butternut squash of the autumn from a mountain of wonderful pumpkins but I couldn't get parsnips at Booths - £6

A small tub of smoked salmon because it was so good last week - £3.50

Kevin was in fine operatic voice at Turnips - and they had parsnips - £2.80

Neals Yard at the end for milk and bread and a ripe slab of brie de mieux because it is my sweethearts favourite - £9.20

By now I was staggering under the weight of all this with a bulging cloth bag over each shoulder and a couple of carriers - don't usually carry much at all - how strong the lovely boyfriend must be!

Tottered onto the bus having spent £66.50

Friday, September 22, 2006

This Week

It was a good week for new things - and largely successful new things at that. Saturday lunch was bread and vegemite - have converted the lovely boyfriend to eating this particular Australian delicacy, mid afternoon snack of scotch egg then griddled steaks and salad for dinner.

Sunday toast and coffee with the papers till late, then some hard core cleaning after which we rewarded ourselves with a beer and some lunch at the Fentiman Arms - the sun was shining and so it was very pleasant to be out on the terrace with more Sunday papers then we had smoked salmon on Hoxton rye later which was very good indeed

Monday was coffee and cereals same all week, lunch was hock and white bean salad and tomatoes and sugar snaps for lunch - same till Thursday - then the first untried dish of the week - stir fried pork and green peppers with rice

Tuesday same as Monday then out to dinner at Maree's new flat in the evening

Wednesday was the second new dish - dill rice that was fabulous with spiced lamb burgers and beetroot salad

Thursday we had lamb and rice for lunch and my sweetheart was out in the evening and I was late home after the first of the new term of French classes so I had beef burgers and salad and bread from Paul for dinner

Friday cold burger and salad for lunch and Spanish omelette for dinner using the last of the chorizo from the freezer and the lovely english ratte potatoes and the bunch of leeks

Not much left over this week - half a lettuce that hit the bin, an aubergine that will make a weekend salad and the pork crackling that is now in the freezer till another day

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Spiced Lamb, Dill Rice and Beetroot Salad

Sounds like a lot to make for a mid week meal doesn't it, and I made cucumber, coriander and sheep yoghurt dip to round out the flavours. It is in a way but it didn't take vast amounts of time - it was all done in less than an hour incuding about twenty minutes cooking - and the results were very good indeed.

The starting point was the dill rice. I found the recipe on a sister site to the lentils and beans site that I used last week that is entirely about rice. It examines the culinary genius of ethnic cuisines from around the world by looking at the way they use rice. It's an interesting site - I was looking for other ways to cook rice - basmati specifically - that were light and flavourful and were a dish in their own right rather than just background support. The rest of the meal flowed from that. The lamb burgers were fairly lightly spiced and the beetroot added an earthy sweetness and the cucumber yoghurt brought it all together.

I like to cook and though this was a bit more complicated than I would normally make on a Wednesday night I enjoyed the process and was well rewarded with a lovely dinner and an interesting new dish to add to my repertoire. And enough leftovers for lunch Thursday.

Spiced Lamb Burgers
500g/1 lb lean minced lamb - only use meat from a well reared animal
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 tspn ground cummin
1 tspn ground coriander
1 small chili, deseeded and finely chopped
Juice from half a lime
Salt and pepper
3 tbspns ground nut oil

Mix all the ingredients except the oil, and form into patties. Put them on a plate in the fridge for 20 - 30 minutes. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan, and cook the patties, covered over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes, turning half way through, till lightly crusted on the outside. Drain on kitchen paper before serving.

Beetroot Salad
2 x 250g packs of pre cooked beetroot, vacuum packed
2 tbspns walnut vinegar
1 tbspn strawberry vinegar + 1 tspn
Salt and pepper

Drain and cut the beetroot into slices about the thickness of a pound coin. Put into a bowl with the other ingredients and mix well.

This is a good stand by salad all year round. I buy prepacked beetroot at Total Organics and usually have some in the fridge. They are simply cooked and packed without vinegar or any other additives and last for about 6 months. Once the salad is made it will last for a week in the fridge. It goes very well with bbqs in summer and salads in general anytime. I have sometimes added a few drops of truffle oil to make a decadently luxurious salad but, if you do this, eat it within a couple of days as the truffle oil makes it go mouldy after this.

Dill Rice
1 cup (7oz/200) rice
3 t oil
4 cloves
½-1 green chilli, finely chopped (optional)
1/3 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1 cup of frozen green peas

Soak the rice for 15 minutes. Wash well and drain.

Heat the oil in a pot and fry the cloves and chilli. Add the peas, dill and rice and saute for 1 minute. Add salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon) and one and three quarter cups boiling water. Cover and cook over a low heat for 9-10 minutes until the rice is perfectly cooked. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stir Fry Pork and Green Peppers

This comes from the new book by Fuchsia Dunlop, The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, that I bought recently and have fallen in love with. She is an extremely talented cook and conveys her huge knowledge of Hunanese cooking easily and with great authority. What I love most is learning to cook - successfully - a different kind of cuisine using unfamiliar ingredients. It is so easy to repeat dishes that you know and like and stop looking for inspiration elsewhere. Unfortunately that leads inevitably to that nightmare scenario of reducing life to seven dishes endlessly repeated every night so if it's sausage and mash it must be Tuesday. Don't want to go there.

With food from this region of China I know where I'm headed because I've eaten a few times at the wonderful Hunan restaurant in Pimlico. It helps enormously to have that sense of direction but this is a complex and sophisticated cuisine and you can't hope to understand it without guidance. I have never been able to accurately reproduce these dishes at home which is frustrating because it is some of my favourite food. So it's a great thrill to be able to use tofu and fermented black beans and make an intensely flavoured supper redolent of pleasurable nights out. You will definitely need to visit a Chinese supermarket for some ingredients like fermented beans - they are different to black bean sauce - but that just adds to the adventure.

Farmhouse Stir-fried Pork with Green Peppers

250g/9 oz Green peppers
50g/ 2oz belly pork or streaky bacon
200g/ 7oz lean boneless pork
1 tspn Shaoxing wine
1 tspn light soy sauce
1/2 tspn dark soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tsp black fermented beans, rinsed
1/2 tsp potato flour mixed with 2 tbspn of stock or water (optional)
About 3 tbspn groundnut oil or lard for cooking

Cut off and discard the stems of the peppers, and slice at a steep angle into 3cm/1 1/4 inch chunks. Cut the belly pork and the lean pork into fairly thin slices; set aside the belly pork. Add the Shaoxing wine and the soy sauces to the lean pork and mix well; set aside.

Smear the wok with a little oil or lard and heat over a medium flame. Add the peppers and stir-fry, pressing them against the side of the wok with your wok scoop for about 5 minutes, until they are fragrant and tender and their skins a little golden and puckered. Remove the peppers from the wok and set aside.

Remove any pepper seeds from the wok, and re-heat over a hot flame till smoke rises, then add 2 tablespoons of oil or lard and swirl around. Add the belly pork and stir-fry until the slices are tinged with gold. Toss in the garlic and black beans and stir-fry briefly until fragrant then add the lean pork. When the pork has almost changed colour and lost most of its water content, return the peppers to the wok and continue to stir-fry for another minute or so, adding salt to taste.

If using the potato-flour mixture - it gives a nice professional gloss to the finished dish - give the mixture a stir and tip it into the wok at the final stage, stirring just long enough for the sauce to cling to the meat.

Serve over fragrant basmati rice.

Monday, September 18, 2006

I Bought

We managed to make it to the market by about 9 on Saturday - it was busy but not manic except for the traffic trying to get round the tiny backstreets and failing miserably so they lean on their horns to no effect. It's good to catch the bus.

Ginger Pig was the first stop as usual and I bought half a kilo of minced lamb, a couple of thick rib eye steaks, a slice of pork steak, a scotch egg and, because I am susceptible to my own greed especially when hungry, a scored piece of pork skin to roast into crackling because I love crackling - £21.40

Two ham hocks from Silfield Farm - it' the first time they've had them for weeks so I got one for lunches this week and one for the freezer - they make great stock for soups and risotto - £5.90

Tomatoes from the Isle of Wight - £3.50

Oak leaf, cucumber and leeks from the veg stall at the back - £3.20

Green peppers, aubergine, sugar snaps, english ratte potatoes because I've only ever had french ones from Booths - £6

I stopped at the Irish smoked salmon stall to buy some and was rewarded with a large slice with fresh lemon squeezed over presented on a white paper napkin - to keep me going - £3.50

Went to Monmouth to buy some coffee for one of the lovely boyfriend's colleagues and sampled an interesting El Salvador coffee and then a spectacularly good Guatamalan one that was recommended by the woman who served me - she was very knowledgeable about all the beans she was selling, with a huge language to describe them much like wine buffs have, and of course I bought the Guatamalan - £4.50

Milk, bread and yoghurt from Neals Yard - and a sample of raisin and walnut bread to finish my browsing breakfast - £9.60

Chocolate brownie for my sweetie - £1.50

Total - £58.10

Friday, September 15, 2006

This Week

It was a busy week for us, mostly partaking of London's famed cultural feast. Friday night we saw the brilliant production of 'The Alchemist' at the National so had a selection of meze at Tas beforehand.

Saturday we had mozzarella and parma ham and bread and salad for lunch and a late afternoon snack of pork pie before going out to see 'Gaddafi' at the ENO. The music was interesting but the show was trite and entirely one dimensional.

Sunday the lovely boyfriend made smoothies and coffee and then we had roast pork for lunch like proper Sunday dinner. I made a paste of garlic and fennel and stuffed it into the pocket where the bone had been then roasted it to crackling perfection served with new potatoes, carrots and leeks and it was very good indeed. We had cold pork sandwiches later after seeing 'Naked Lunch' at the Barbican.

Coffee and cereals and yoghurt all week for breakfast, lunch on Monday was the rest of the pork pie with potato salad - I'd cooked extra at Sunday lunch - and mange tout and baby tomatoes. Dinner was a bowl of iffy lasagne at Baracco before seeing the still brilliant 'Bad Timing' followed by a Q&A with Nic Roeg and Jeremy Thomas - the second film we saw in the season devoted to the films produced by Jeremy Thomas - he can certainly pick a good script and take it all the way to being classic cinema

Tuesday was the rest of the roast pork for lunch with potato salad and trimmings, dinner was grilled beef sausages, grilled aubergine salad and tossed green salad

Wednesday was cold sausages, spiced aubergine and salad for lunch, I was out that night so I left my sweetheart some defrosted cauliflower soup and granary bread for his supper and he had a cheese sandwich instead

Thursday it was cheese sandwich from the freezer with apples for lunch and zucchini and tomato dal with cucumber, coriander and yoghurt for supper

Friday is leftover dal for lunch and the cauliflower soup that needs eating up with some bread and cheese to follow

Not much leftover this week - the minute steaks went into the freezer for sandwiches another day and there's still plenty of eggs

Zucchini Tomato Dal

I was surfing web the other day, looking for some information and interesting titbits about lentils and came upon Beans & Lentils - a fund of information and also lots of interesting recipes, Indian in origin. The overwhelming sense of the site is the pleasure to be had from cooking and eating beans and lentils and how, with the application of a little skill and imagination you could eat them daily for months without repetition. They are a staple in India, revered as much for their versatility and variety as for their essential goodness. It made me realise I should be looking to expand my repertoire for these legumes because I was missing out on a lot of fabulous food.

So I set off for Brick Lane to visit Taj Stores - one of the truly great food emporiums of London - where you can buy dozens of varieties of lentils and beans, as well as spices and chutneys and rice in industrial quantities. One of the specials of the week was bogoff (buy one get one for free) on 1kg packs of turmeric - I can hardly begin to imagine how to use so much. It is such a treat to shop here - the aisles are a riot of colour and perfume. I came away happy with channa dal and black eyed beans, some chappatis to reheat as well as some bombay mix for my sweetheart.

Zucchini Tomato Dal

4 tsp ghee or sunflower oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 minced green chili pepper-optional
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp panch poran - a bengali spice blend
1 tbsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup channa dal
4 cups water
2 cup zucchini, diced
1/2 cup ripe tomato diced
Salt to taste

In a saucepan, heat the ghee or oil. Add the onion and garlic (and minced chili pepper) and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, panch poran, coriander, and pepper; cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the lentils and water and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the zucchini/tomato and cook for about 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender. Stir in the salt.

Serve with an Indian flat bread or flour tortilla. I also made a dish of peeled cubed cucumber and very finely sliced coriander mixed with sheeps milk yoghurt that was a great accompaniment.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Bought

Fabulous night at the National on Friday to see The Alchemist. It was the first of a few nights out and I hadn't thought much about food for the week so I was vaguely out of sorts at Borough Saturday morning. The sun was shining but it wasn't too busy so things got steadily better.

The only clear decision I had made was a desire for porchetta for Sunday lunch so I bought a lovely piece of boned rolled leg of pork at Ginger Pig the skin scored and a good ridge of fat and some eggs £14.20

Pork pie from Mrs Elizabeth King - £4.50

Didn't have one but bought a hangover cure juice from Total Organics - fresh mix of apple, fennel, ginger and orange juice - my favourite of all their mixes. We did once try the wheatgrass - don't care how good it is for you it is disgusting to drink proving, should proof be needed, that grass is for cows making steak for supper and that is the way of the world - £3.50

Wanted beef sausages from Wild Beef to have for lunches a couple of days and then, on a whim, also bought a couple of minute steaks largely because we had talked about steak sandwiches recently and they looked like they'd fit the bill perfectly - £8.70

Apples and strawberries from Chegworth Valley Farm stall - £3.60

Onions, courgettes and leeks from the veg stall round the back - £2.10

What I thought was a poppy seed loaf from Clarkes that turned out to be caraway bread with poopy seeds stuck to the crust - and the lovely boyfriend doesn't like caraway but I do - £1.30

Mozzarella and parma ham from the new Italian stall - £7.70 including 10p discount for bringing the tub back from previous purchases

Carrots from Total Organics £1

Potatoes, mange tout (the sugar snaps looked a little limp this week), cucumber, bananas from Booths £4.80

Milk, and every kind of yoghurt - cow, sheep and goat - plus ciabatta from Neals Yard £9.60

Coffee beans from Monmouth £8.50

The inevitable chocolate brownie £1.50

This week is £76.50

Friday, September 08, 2006

This Week

Saturday we had bread and fennel salami and truffle mortadella and sheeps cheese and plum tomatoes and rocket from the garden for lunch and sublimely good pasta with girolle and cream for supper

Sunday we started with coffee and toast and the sun was shining so we walked to the old Tate and saw an interesting Howard Hodgkin exhibition then had a quiet pint in the pub next door facing the river then home to feast on our giant scotch egg - it was very good and is now on the list of edible weekend snacks along with pork pies and Irish smoked salmon. It was steak and salad for supper - a lovely way to finish the weekend

Monday it's coffee and cereals and the same all week for breakfast, the lovely boyfriend had cheese sandwich and a fresh russet for lunch while I had leftover steak and salad and we had further experiments with Fuchsia Dunlop's new book and tried pock marked woman's bean curd (I kid you not) and green peppers with black beans and rice and it was very very good

Tuesday the lovely boyfriend had leftovers with rice which was reportedly very nice thank you very much, I had a sandwich from Konditor and Cook that was all right and a bakewell tart from St John's that was lovely. At the last minute Marie couldn't make dinner so we had masses of guinea fowl and lentils with a side serving of green beans and, much to the lovely boyfriends delight, a surfeit of chocolate pots

Wednesday it was lentils for lunch and reheated leftovers for dinner followed by chocolate pots

Thursday was the last of the guinea fowl and lentils for lunch and then a simple vegetable curry for dinner - two pans, two bowls, great flavour, minimal washing up

Friday I had scrambled eggs for breakfast using up the yolks from the midweek chocolate pots - the decadent opposite of egg white omelette, cheese sandwich and apple for lunch and we're out tonight to see The Alchemist at the National so we'll grab a bite somewhere

The bacon and sausages disappeared into the freezer at the weeknd and didn't re-emerge, the yellow courgettes looked a touch manky by Thursday so were binned and not curried, and the aubergines and cucumber are still okay and will become salads over this weekend, the little disc of goats cheese is still there as is the small block of hard cheese for grating that may well get used mid week over cauliflower soup. The broccoli and half a bunch of spring onions may not make it any further - not too much waste at the end of the week - and still a couple of cheese sandwiches in the freezer for another day

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Guinea Fowl and Fennel

Guinea fowl, originally an African bird, were brought to Europe by the Portuguese in their colonial days. They are pretty creatures that eat bugs and roost in trees rather than scratch for worms and roost in a hen house and in this way are, in fact, not much like chickens. I guess it is possible to intensively rear them but they are happiest pecking about at leisure. They taste like a very chickeny chicken without being too gamey. The flesh is firm and they don't carry much fat and they roast up a treat if you seal the skin first in a hot pan.

They are also useful to science. According to the RDS website, scientists are learning from guinea fowl why some muscles feel the burn during exercise more than others. The researchers placed six guinea fowl on a treadmill and gave them three different workouts. During one, they birds wore a backpack to work the stance muscles. A second wore ankle weights to work the swing muscles. The third worked out without weights.

Not every leg muscle worked equally. With the backpack, three of the 12 stance muscles consumed nearly three quarters of the energy flowing to the muscles. The researchers think these three muscles – two in the thigh and one in the lower leg – are more efficient. In contrast, all the birds' swing muscles helped equally.

I have included the above snippet because it conjures up such magnificently bizarre images of fit birds and cartoon chickens off to war that I just had to share it.

The recipe comes from River Café Cook Book Easy - a book that really does contain what it says on the cover. This dish always works and is just unusual enough to create interest. It's good at this time of year as it is substantial without being too rich. It only takes about 20 minutes preparation and is cooked in less than an hour so it is an excellent choice for a mid week dinner party. The fennel roasts to be meltingly soft, scenting the dish with aniseed.

Guinea Fowl with Fennel

2 guinea fowl
4 garlic cloves
2 tbspns rosemary leaves
1 red onion
3 fennel bulbs
Olive oil
10 slices of pancetta
250ml white wine

Ask the butcher to cut each guinea fowl into 8 pieces after first cutting out the backbone. Wipe the pieces clean and trim off any fat. Peel and finely chop the garlic and chop the rosemary. Peel the onion and cut it and the fennel bulbs into eighths. Cut the pancetta into 1cm pieces. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.

Mix the garlic and rosemary with salt and pepper. Put the guinea fowl into a large roasting tin drizzle with olive oil and add the garlic mixture. Turn each piece to coat it thoroughly. Spread into a single layer across the base of the pan.

Scatter the red onion, fennel and pancetta over the birds. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 1/2 hour.

Add the wine and roast for a further 20 minutes. Raise the heat to 225C/Gas 9 for the last few minutes to brown.

Serve with braised lentils.

Braised Lentils

Lentils have been cultivated for many thousands of years across the world. They even rate a mention in the first chapter of the bible - in Genesis (the one where one begat another begat another) Isaac, son of Abraham, marries Rebekah who subsequently begets twins, who even in her womb, struggle against each other. She went to Jehovah and asked him why. He told her Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels. And the one people shall be stronger than the other people. And the elder shall serve the younger. Rebekah birthed her babies Esau and Jacob (in that order) and they grew into men. Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field. Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison. And Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob boiled pottage. Esau came in from the field, and he was faint. He said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage. For I am faint. Jacob said, Sell me first thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am about to die. What profit shall the birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me first. And he sware unto him. And he sold his birthright unto Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils. And he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.

You could read it as an explanation of why lentils are popular in both eastern and western cuisines - or you could just read it as a great little story of everyday folk having lunch. Either way, lentils are wonderful in endless varieties of dishes. They are high in protein and carbohydrates, don't need soaking and taste good. Puy lentils are considered the finest but my favourite is mostly the humble brown Egyptian lentil. I made a particularly fine dish of braised lentils last night to go with guinea fowl and fennel - with leftovers for tonight.

Braised Lentils

200g lentils, washed
75g smoked pancetta, in a piece
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
the fennel stalks that stick up like fingers from the top of the bulb, finely chopped
bouquet garni of bayleaf, rosemary and thyme
2 tbspns olive oil

Chop the pancetta into thin pieces and fry gently in the olive oil till golden. Add the garlic and chopped vegetables. Stir to coat with oil and cook for a few minutes to soften a little. Add the lentils, stir and add the bouquet garni. Add enough cold water to completely cover. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a low simmer, cover and cook for about 30-40 minutes, checking occasionally that the liquid hasn't evaporated. Season generously with salt and pepper then serve.

God knows they are good.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pasta with Girolle and Cream

Saturday was a really miserable day for weather - rain and wind and never properly light and pretty much dark by 6pm. Just like autumn. The initial plan had been for steak for dinner that night but seeing the box of fresh girolles at Booths led me astray and instead I wanted to make this deeply luxurious dish that is both elegant and cheering on an otherwise bleak day.

The pasta I use for it is called lasagne festonate made by la Molisana - I buy it either at Camisa in Soho or Terroni and Sons in Clerkenwell. It is quite beautiful - about an inch wide with a delicate frill down one edge like the scalloping on a favourite party frock. Well worth searching out. The cream has to be the best you can get - this is such a simple dish that every ingredient shines.

Pasta with Girolles and Cream

100g/4oz fresh girolle, wiped clean of any soil or debris
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tspn lemon juice
250 ml whipping cream
1 clove garlic peeled and halved
1 sprig rosemary
250g lasagne festonate or other flat, widish pasta

Heat the oil in a small frypan over a gentle heat add the cleaned mushrooms. Cook slowly for ten minutes - cooking on a high temperatures will make them go rubbery. Meanwhile in a small pan heat the cream with the rosemary and garlic till it starts to simmer then turn off the heat and allow to infuse.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water as per the instructions on the packet. Drain the pasta and divide between two bowls. Strain the cream over the pasta. Stir the lemon juice through the mushrooms and season then scatter over the top of the pasta and serve with crusty bread.

The sun shone the next day.

I Bought

It was cold and wet and windy at Borough Market on Saturday with that grey half light of autumn - undeniably bleak. Seemed right that there are piles of pumpkins and marrows - the delicacy of summer is fast receding.

I bought two guinea fowl at Wyndham Poultry for dinner Tuesday when Marie is coming to visit - had them chopped into pieces so prep for dinner will be quick - £10

Last weeks steak from Ginger Pig was so good we splashed out on more this week - rib eye thick cut for Saturday night special, plus some minced pork, garlic toulouse sausages and half a dozen rashers of shortback bacon - £27

I went back later to the prepared food counter at Ginger Pig and bought a scotch egg the size of a cricket ball - £3

The lovely boyfriend wanted cheese sandwiches for lunches so we bought a big hunk of toma from the Italian cheese stall and once we had that the cute guy who runs it said you want to spend £10? He does good deals and has brilliant cheeses so I asked what he suggested and he added two discs of soft cheese - one sheep one goat and a chunk of something hard and pungent like Pecorino to grate into soup - and indeed £10 well spent

Baby plum tomatoes and a huge beefsteak tomato to grill with the steak - £4.10

Leeks, broccoli and green and yellow courgettes from the vegetable stall across from the pie stall - £2.40

The new season russets have arrived at the Kent apple stall - ooh look they're here I cried in delight and the woman next to me said I just thought exactly that! 5 of them were £1.10

By the time we got round to Booths it was pouring and practically dark even though it was 10 in the morning. There was a huddle of people looking not buying but out of the rain - one said it smells doesn't it? with a tone of awe. Supermarkets don't smell of anything, his companion replied and you can't touch anything. It's true - this is amazing. So - more converts me thinks. I bought fennel, beans, sugarsnaps, spring onions, red onions and shallot and then as we queued to pay I saw girolles from Scotland for £12 a kilo and decided that we'd go with the weather and have pasta with wild mushrooms for supper - £7.20

Fennel salami and mortadella with truffles - which the lovely boyfriend thinks looks like teddy bear faces like the worst of lunch counter meats but he's wrong - £4.20

Three green peppers and two aubergine from Tony - £1.70

Milk, cream and bread from Neals Yard - £9

The inevitable chocolate brownie - £1.50

£70.10 for the week

Friday, September 01, 2006

This Week

This week was a good week - Monday was a holiday so even with bad weather it was still better than working.

Saturday we had hot sausage sandwiches for lunch - they were great - melted butter mixed with ketchup dripping down our chins - lovely. We were out in the evening drinking with David down by the river so needed feeding during the day.

Sunday - smoothies for breakfast with coffee and newspapers before setting off to see an old Bunuel film - Exterminating Angel - his surreal (of course) film about guests unable to leave a dinner party and their descent into a kind of hell. Entirely engrossing but very strange. It was on at the Ritzy as part of a contextualising Spanish cinema season leading up to the release of Pedro Almodovar's new film. Sunday night we had inch thick grilled steak with salad - one of my favourite meals in the world.

Monday - smoothies and coffee and papers again then off to see Volver - and it was an unalloyed pleasure to watch - I would happily have sat through another couple of hours of it. Went home to lunch on pork pie and salad instead. For dinner we had grilled beef noodle salad after cooking the gammon and brown rice salad and, just to be domestic I defrosted the fridge and now it's all clean and shiny - a satisfying day off

Tuesday - coffee and cereals all week for breakfast, gammon and brown rice salad for lunches for the week and a slightly overambitious dinner of spicy pork balls and sea spice aubergine which were great with a less successful side dish of stir fry cucumber using a recipe from my new Fuchsia Dunlop book (it arrived that morning and I had to make something) all served with rice. It certainly made a lot of washing up

Wednesday - a more restrained evening meal of spaghetti with zucchinis - very simple, very good, very little mess

Thursday - simple again with grilled pork chops from the freezer with boiled new potatoes and salad

Friday - cooked extra potatoes last night to make a salad to go with the last of the gammon for lunch, and we'll probably have stir fry chicken for supper - hopefully a more successful recipe from my new book