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.

I Bought

This weekend was the 250th anniversary of Borough Market continuous operation as a food market- an impressive achievement in anyone's books. Celebrations were planned with a procession and visits from stars like Giorgio Locatelli and most 0f it set to kick off about 11am. Curmudgeon that I am what it made me think was 'rush!' and get out ahead of the crowds. It is slow moving all the time but with the promise of extra treats and events it's bound to be more packed than usual. It was a sentiment echoed by some of the traders too - for them it holds the prospect of a full day of manic chaos - exhausting.

So rush rush to Ginger Pig for a couple of thick pork chops and some eggs - £6.40 - possibly the least I have ever spent there!

Then carrot, apple and ginger freshly juiced from Total Organics for energy - £3.00

Two packs of coarse ground beef and a couple of minute steaks from Wild Beef because their meat is amazing and Lizzie looked lovely in her old fashioned frock specially for the day - £10.50
A small tub of black kalamata's after a quick chat with Marie at Borough Olives - £2

Mozzarella injected with fresh cream and a soft round of sheep's cheese from the Italian stall - £10

A nice hunk of Caerphilly that is somehow creamy and crumbly at the same time - £3.80

Russets and a bottle of apple and rhubarb juice from Chegworth Valley stall - £4.60

Potatoes, cucumber, sugar snaps, butternut squash, lettuce but no herbs from Booths because they hadn't put them out by 10 am - £7.20

Dill from the vegetable stall round the back - 80p

Irish smoked salmon freshly sliced - a large tub today because my sweethearts parents were visiting - £7

Revisit Ginger Pig but to their cooked food counter for a giant sausage roll and a scotch egg - my eyes were possiblybigger than my stomach and I really wanted a sausage roll as they are the best but my lovely sweetheart is not convinced he likes them so I thought it best to have an egg as well so he would also have a savoury snack - £6

Coffee - dark roast Guatamalan from Monmouth - £8

Bread, milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £8.60

Corn fed chicken from Wyndhams for lunches - £5

Altogether an anniversay celebrating £76.90 - with no need to be buying a brownie this week as the Observer Food Magazine were very generously handing them out for free with a pack of freetrade coffee to publicise their monthly magazine and my lovely one snaffled a sample with alacrity

Friday, October 20, 2006

This Week

A slightly complicated week after a hugely enjoyable long weekend in France. Coming back Sunday night meant little in the house by way of food. After a magnificent seafood lunch overlooking the beach at Biarritz we weren't wildly hungry when we got home. I made a simple standby of spaghetti with butter, nutmeg and Parmesan - pale, delicate and utterly wonderful.

Coffee and cereals for breakfast Monday, I bought a piece of honey roast chicken, a corn fritter and some roasted vegetables from Flaneur for lunch - I had wanted to sample their food for a while and I wasn't disappointed. I picked up a few bits and pieces from the vegetable shop and, with some sausages from the freezer we had sausage and mash and peas for a simple supper.

Tuesday was goat's milk yoghurt from Waitrose, which is light and flavourful to start the day, as well as cereals and coffee for breakfast for the rest of the week. For lunches till Thursday it was another freezer dish - I had half a boned rolled hand of pork from the summer and also, in a separate tub, the braising juices that I had cooked the last one in. So, having defrosted both overnight, I simply fried some finely chopped onion, garlic and rosemary in a little olive oil, browned the meat, added the stock and fresh bay leaf then slow cooked it for a couple of hours. Cold, with white bean salad made with herbs from the garden and a few sprigs of fresh basil, this was a very good lunch box. Dinner was wild mushroom risotto, with chicken stock from the freezer - spotted the theme for the week yet? - and the rest of the bunch of basil.

Wednesday and things started going a little less well. We went to see Frozen Land, a strange and funny Finnish film that confirmed my feeling that Helsinki may be aptly named and came home to what was meant to be a quick and tasty supper of mussel and noodle soup with coriander. The mussels were a purée I had frozen from dinner a few weeks ago, noodles were fresh egg also from the freezer, herbs were fresh. The mussels, unfortunately, seemed to have deteriorated and as I warmed them they tasted very salty and bitter and generally nasty. By now it was late, we were hungry and a little tired and we had next to nothing beyond a couple of eggs with which to conjure a meal. So I chopped an onion and a couple of garlic cloves, stir fried them briefly in some spiced chilli oil added the noodles and some soy and oyster sauce, cooked for a couple of minutes, stirred the beaten eggs through like a carbonara, then finished it with chopped coriander and a glug of sesame oil - about 7 minutes total. And it wasn't bad. Then we slept well.

Thursday I was home late after practicising feminine adjectives in my French class and we had spiced beef and rice from - you guessed it - the freezer, and it was okay.

Friday nothing left for lunches beyond clementines and biscuits so I had a very good freshly made pappardelle with wild mushrooms and cream from my favourite caff - the Barbican Grill on Whitecross Street. May well be pasta for dinner too.

The freezer had definitely started to fill up a little but it came into it's own for getting us through the week with the style we are accustomed to. But I am seriously looking forward to going to Borough Market tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wild Mushroom Risotto

I have read occasionally of the difficulty of making risotto but I love them and have never really had a problem. You just have to keep stirring until it is perfect. The simple rule of using the best ingredients applies here as elsewhere.

For a delicate, creamy risotto you must use short grain rice. I find Vialone Nano is the best. Grown only around Piedmont in northern Italy, it was created by the Vercelli Rice Experimental Station. First cultivated in 1937 it was introduced into the province of Verona in 1945. It turned out to be a marriage made in heaven. The even climate, rich soil and the plentiful springs of pure sweet water combine to create fine, pearly grains of rice. The spring water allows for crop rotation, reducing the need for and use of chemical fertilisers. It is well worth the effort to search out this stubby little grain which keeps its shape while absorbing the stock, creating a creamy risotto for your pleasure.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small onion, very finely choppped
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
2 tbspn butter
1 tbspn olive oil
200g/8oz arborio rice
25g dried wild mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes

1 litre/ 1 1/2 pints chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbspns fresh basil, chopped
50g/2oz freshly grated Parmesan

Put the stock into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Strain the mushroom soaking water through a very fine sieve into the stock. Set the mushrooms to one side.

Melt one tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil in a large, shallow, heavy based pan over a medium heat. When it starts to foam add the onion and garlic and fry for about 5 minutes till translucent. Add the chopped celery and the rice and stir to coat in the oil. Add a ladle of hot stock and stir with a wooden spoon until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock a ladle at a time and stirring till about half is used, then add the mushrooms and a grating of nutmeg. Add more stock in the same way till most of it has been soaked up by the rice then start checking the rice for doneness - it should be creamy on the outside and firm in the centre. This takes about 20 minutes altogether.

When it reaches this point stir through the Parmesan and the basil, adjust the seasonings and finally stir in the other tablespoon of butter. Serve in large bowls.

The amount of stock that is absorbed varies a little - if you run out before the rice is completely cooked add hot water till you reach the desired consistency. This is a lovely meal to have mid week as it is simple and quick to prepare and ready to eat in about half an hour.

Monday, October 16, 2006

This Week

It was a short week in London as we headed off to France on Thursday for a long weekend and to check on the house. It started a little disastrously Saturday with braised rabbit - the fault was definitely with the animal and not the recipe but it was disappointing for it to be inedible. We'd had smoked salmon sandwiches for lunch and settled for fried egg sandwiches for dinner - actually pretty good but not in the original plan.

Sunday we had toast and coffee with the papers then, to make the most of the sunshine, we went out for lunch at the Wheatsheaf - also at Borough - and had what was possibly the best Sunday pub lunch ever. Roast beef, yorkshire puddings, great veg and hot fresh gravy - all the produce comes from the market and it was cooked to perfection. We were less than entirely hungry Sunday night but we did manage hot roast pork with crackling served with a parmesan barley risotto and roast spiced butternut - but in teeny tiny portions.

Monday was yoghurt and cereals and coffee for breakfast, same till Thursday, then cold roast pork, barley and butternut for lunches till Wednesday. Monday evening Marie came to dinner and we had carrot and coriander soup - carrots being in season and the flavour being delightful, followed by grilled steak of such immensity that we were all defeated before we could finish served with onion salad, green salad and crusty bread. After a small pause we could manage chocolate truffle cake with crème frâiche and a little of the hard cheese we had got from the Italian cheese stall.

Tuesday we had leftover soup and toast and chocolate truffle cake as the mountain of washing up from Monday had momentarily banished my will to cook. It was a fine supper. Lunch was the same as Monday with the added bonus of cake for morning tea.

Wednesday we went out for pizza.

Thursday we flew to Biarritz after grilled steak sandwiches at the airport then we had dinner at the local café when we reached the village.

Friday is market day in our town so we wandered down and bought lots of veg, including black new potatoes and whole beetroots that had been roasted in a wood oven and went back to the gîte for bread and local sunflower honey for breakfast in the sun on the terrace. Warm enough there to have a bbq that evening with sausages and the next night with magret. Holiday bliss.

Caught up with the village gossip through various sources - seems the butcher's wife had an affair with the local bar owner and now the butcher's has closed because they had been spending so much time in the restaurant of their daughter in the next village that the owner wanted them out almost as much as they wanted to go. We had a damned fine lunch there on Saturday - they specialise in local meat and the butcher, who was a fairly cheerless soul in the shop is now tucked away in the kitchen creating startlingly good food while his wife revels in the attention she garners front of house. Seems balance is restored and a marriage is saved.

Back in London Sunday night we ended up throwing away broccoli, brussel sprouts, a few sugar snaps and a pint of milk but not too bad really. The tub of cream went into the freezer.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Carrot and Coriander Soup

It is turning bleak, slowly but surely. It's not really cold yet though we're well into October. After a brilliant weekend, rain and heavy cloud has arrived and with it a lack of proper daylight making for gloomy days inside and out. It is a good time for the comfort of soup.

One of my favourites is the wonderfully spicy Carrot and Coriander, the cheerful orange colour of it brightens the day and the combination of both dried spices and fresh coriander leaves give it a serious depth, surprising given that the base is water rather than stock.
Coriander is a herb that has seemingly been around since the beginning of time. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historia, the encyclopedia he wrote around 77 A.D. named coriandrium, derived from koros (a bug) in reference to the foetid smell of the leaves. Others refer to their distinctive perfume.

The orangey flavour of the seeds goes well with carrots as well as the classic combination with chilli and cumin. This is the base for the soup and then, after it's cooked and sieved, you add fresh leaves at the last minute to serve giving it texture as well as flavour making for a simple, elegant starter or lunch with a little crusty bread. The recipe comes from Sally Clark's Book.

Carrot, Cumin & Coriander Soup

60 ml olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small red chili, cut in half
3 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
750g/1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 sticks celery, washed and cut into chunks
1 medium fennel bulb, washed and sliced
about 700 ml/1 1/2 pints water
2 tsp salt
1 large bunch coriander, washed thoroughly, 6 sprigs picked, stalks removed from remaining leaves
Sour cream to serve - optional

Over a medium heat in a heavy based pan warm the olive oil with the garlic, chili, cumin and coriander seeds until the spices begin to sizzle and the aroma is released. Turn up the heat, add the vegetables and stir well to coat each piece with the flavoured oil. Cover with a lid and cook without colouring for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add water to barely cover as well as the salt and the coriander stalks. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer until all the vegetables are soft, approximately 20 minutes. Scoop out about a cup of liquid and set aside. In a food processor or with an electric hand blender, purée the rest of the contents of the pan. Check the consistency and, if it needs it, add the reserved liquid and purée again. Push the soup through a sieve into a clean pan - this sounds like hard work but in fact is very easy in this recipe and makes a world of difference.

Chop the coriander leaves and stir into the soup, taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot or chilled with a scoop of sour cream and a sprig of fresh coriander to decorate.

This was how we began dinner Monday night with Marie - she approved - and it was pretty fabby next night with hot buttered toast for dinner for us Tuesday and a little left over chocolate truffle cake to finish.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Oh dear! A Rabbit's Tale

On Friday last week there was a food market in Whitecross Street just round the corner from work so I shimmied down at lunchtime, mostly looking for a treat to eat and curious to see which producers would be there. It was pouring with rain so the crowds weren't exactly thronging. Lots of the stall holders were also sellers at Borough like Shellseekers, Dupond Bakery and Silfield Farm, so I happily scoffed fresh grilled scallops and bacon on the shell while I wandered about.

There were also a couple of game dealers that I'd not seen before. I have been thinking of cooking rabbit recently - the meat is inexpensive and I have always enjoyed it when I've eaten it in restaurants. One of the dealers had oven ready wild rabbits for £2.50 so, figuring I couldn't go wrong, I bought one. At home I found a fabulous sounding dish of rabbit with sherry and garlic and smoked bacon in Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating and I settled on making it as a full on treat for dinner Saturday.

It is rare that I cook something that is completely, irredeemably inedible.

I took the rabbit from its plastic bag and the lovely boyfriend, wielding the cleaver like a pro, chopped it into half a dozen pieces. It smelt, strongly and unmistakably, like a stable. Vaguely daunted, but not dissauded from my plan, we washed the pieces and patted them dry. It is no doubt obvious to the reader that it is probably not possible to wash away the smell of horse dung with a quick rinse under the cold tap but I was hoping that slow cooking in the aromatics and sherry would transform the wee beastie.

I browned the meat, which didn't help the smell, then cooked the bacon and shallots which gave off a wonderful aroma. I put the meat back, added stock and wine and sherry and 40 cloves of garlic and set the pot to cook. Ninety minutes later the rabbit didn't look cooked to the point of falling off the bone so it went back into the oven for another half hour. Then too it didn't seem ready but we were starving for our supper so the pot went back while I made a fast and decadent repast of fried egg sandwiches.

I left the pan in for another half hour, then let it cool overnight, planning to have the casserole for dinner Tuesday. But when I removed the lid Sunday morning, there was the unmistakable waft of horse in amongst the pleasant smoky bacon sweetish sherry aroma. This was not a 'slight mustiness' - it was full on rank. My sweetheart had a sniff and insisted it should go straight into the bin and out the door without pause.

It's a shame but it was defintely inedible. I will try it again - I'm still convinced that it will be great with a bonny bunny - but this time I'll use a game dealer I trust.

Here's the recipe because I'm convinced it will make a hearty dish.
Rabbit and Garlic
A healthy splash of olive oil
1 rabbit, chopped into sections
sea salt and pepper
150g/5oz smked streaky bacon, cut into chunks and rind reserved
12 shallots, peeled but kept whole
30-40 cloves of garlic, unpeeled but separated
150ml dry sherry
300ml white wine
1/2 litre chicken stock
1 bay leaf
A bundle of fresh thyme and parsley, tied together
Get a large ovenproof pot with a lid, place on the heat and pour in enough olive oil to just cover the bottom. Season the rabbit pieces with slat and pepper and when the oil is hot brown the rabbit. When you are happy with the hue, remove the pieces from the pot (if all the oil has gone with them add another splash).
Put in the bacon, its skin, and the shallots. Allow to sizzle, and stir for 10 minutes, not letting them burn. Now return the rabbit to the pot and add the garlic, sherry, wine, stock, bay leaf and finally the bundle of herbs. Check the seasoning. Bring to a boil, straight away reduce to a simmer, place the lid on and put the pot into a warm to hot oven for approximately 11/2 hours, but keep an eye on it and check the meat for giving qualities with a sharp knife ( not quite but soon to fall off the bone ).
Serve hot straight from the pot, encouraging your fellow diners to suck the flesh from the unpeeled garlic cloves, which will now be sweet and delicious. For the juices you need both bread and napkins.
If you have a good rabbit - try it. I'm sure it will be good.

I Bought

Saturday was a glorious day in London. Though there was a definite nip in the air the sky was an endless blue and the sun was brilliant. Didn't realise until I saw the bus coming that I didn't have my bus pass so had to leave the lovely boyfriend dreaming in the sunshine and run home to retrieve it. So we were a little later than we might have been if I'd been more awake.

I needed to make some stock so I bought 2 chicken carcasses at Wyndham's for £1

Ginger Pig was next where I bought a big piece of boned and rolled leg of pork for Sunday and lunches, a big thick slice of rump steak, some smoked bacon and eggs - £38.90

We were feeling a little peckish what with the autumn chill and everything so we bought an egg and bacon roll and a sausage in a roll from the concession Roast has set up at ground level - the meat was good but the buns, though fresh, were far too dense - £7.50

I needed Parmesan so we stopped at the Italian stall and got a lovely piece and a round of soft cheese that we are assured is truly amazing - £10

Vegetables next from Booths - lettuce, sugar snaps, fennel, broccoli, butternut squash, coriander, onions, garlic, shallots, lemons, the first brussel sprouts - seriously moving into more substantial fare as the temperature drops - £9

Carrots from Total Organics £1.20

A small tub of smoked salmon from the Irish stall outside Brindisa because I cannot resist - £3.50

Milk, cream, crème frâiche and bread from Neal's Yard - £9.60

In an heroic act of self-denial there was no chocolate brownie for the my sweetheart this week - I'm not sure why. We still managed to spend £80.70 for the week

Friday, October 06, 2006

This Week

Saturday we had some bread and vegemite with the rosemary bread and it was a thin crusted slice with a dense soft centre - well worth the change. And it made good toast for the next couple of mornings. Dinner was a new dish from Fuchsia Dunlop's book, Slow Cooked Beef with Potatoes - not something I would immediately associate with Chinese cuisine but it makes sense. It was richly flavoured and very good.

Sunday after toast and coffee we dodged the rain and went to a preview of The Devil Wears Prada - funny and nasty and good Sunday morning viewing then we went home for scotch egg and the rest of the prep for dinner with Vicki and David - runny gorgonzola scraped up with crisp green celery, coq au vin over basmati rice and the fabulous almond and orange cake with a dollop of crème frâiche and coffee.

Monday was toast and coffee for breakfast, the cold chicken with rice for lunch after the rest of the almond cake for morning tea and vegetable curry and rice for dinner

Tuesday coffee and yoghurt and cereals for breakfast and the same for the rest of the week, lunch was curry and rice and dinner was stir fry pork and green peppers, sea spice aubergine and rice

Wednesday was leftover stir fry for lunch which actually was very good - I worried that it wouldn't work but the flavours were lovely. We were out in the evening recalling our youth watching the film of the Johnny Ramone tribute concert and Q&A after with Marky Ramone - the music is still great then a bowl of pho at Viet

Thursday I bought some so so fish and chips for lunch because it was cold and wet and nasty out but I wouldn't do it again from that shop as they weren't great, and then for supper we had big bowls of delicately flavoured leek and bacon pasta which was.

Friday it's boiled egg and salad for lunch and probably omelette with boiled ratte potatoes and salad for supper along with half the ciabatta that I froze on the weekend because the half rosemary loaf was huge

Not much leftover this week - half the spiced beef went into the freezer for another dinner, there was about a pint of red wine sauce left from the coq au vin that has also gone into the freezer, very possibly to be served over mashed potatoes and boiled carrots and sprouts when the weather gets colder, half a bunch of celery that is still crisp and a few carrots

Pasta with Bacon & Leeks

This was dinner that had to be a quickie, it was Thursday after French class and as always the lovely boyfriend needed feeding soonish after I got home and it was a need for me too as the weather was vile. First blast of autumn with heavy rain and whip your brolly inside out winds to splatter you with misery and just generally nasty.

Didn't have vast amounts of stuff in the fridge but I did have some smoked bacon and leeks and that was a good place to start. I had a couple of leftover things as well that needed using up - the last of a bottle of white wine and half a tub of crème frâiche. I had a vision of pasta sauce.

Pasta with Bacon & Leeks

1 small onion, finely chopped
100g/4oz bacon, sliced into 1cm/ 1/2 inch strips
3 or 4 leeks, washed and whites sliced into 1cm/ 1/2 inch rings
1/2 cup white wine
2tbspns olive oil
Fresh grated nutmeg
2-3 tbspns crème frâiche
2-3 tbspns grated Parmesan
250g pasta shapes you like

Heat the oil in heavy based pan and gently fry the onion and bacon for 5 minutes. Add the leeks and stir to coat then tip in the wine, season with a good grinding of pepper, turn the heat right down and simmer. Meanwhile cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water till al dente.
Grate some fresh nutmeg over the leeks and add the crème frâiche and stir to mix well. Set aside 2 tablespoons of pasta water then drain the pasta. Mix the sauce through, adding the extra water if needed for a lighter finish. Check and adjust the seasoning. Top with Parmesan and serve.

And my vision turned out to be very good - quite light and delicate with lots of subtle flavours and textures. And ready in half an hour. Definitely one to repeat.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sea Spice Aubergine

I first tried sea spice aubergine a few years ago at the recommendation of the owner of a little Vietnamese restaurant we used to frequent. When I asked him what it was he shrugged and said it's nice, you'll like it. He was right. I've had it many times since in other restaurants but could never find a recipe for it. I googled it - my fall back response whenever I need information - but without success. The results are all for takeaway menus from Swindon not recipes to follow at home. I scanned the shelves of Chinese supermarkets and found nothing marked sea spice. I asked but got a blank look in reply.

All very curious.

Then one day I was reading about something else and it mentioned that sea spice aubergine are sometimes called fish fragrant aubergine because the combination of spices is usually used to cook fish dishes. So I googled fish fragrant aubergine and finally got a result - I can't tell you how delighted I was. The recipe I liked the best comes from the Chinese Healthy Living website. I rushed home that night to try it out - and to my delight it was brilliant. I made it again last night with pork and green peppers and steamed basmati rice. It was very very good.

Sea-spiced Aubergines

750g/1 1/2lb aubergine
1/2 tbspn olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 slices fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely sliced
50ml/2oz vegetable stock or water
1 tbspn yellow bean sauce
1 tbspn Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 tspn shoyu or tamari sauce 2 spring onions, chopped, to serve

Put the aubergine ina foil-lined roasting tin and bake in teh centre of a preheated oven, 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6, for 30-35 minutes until soft and wrinkly. Remove and set aside to cool, then cut into 2.5 cm/1 inch cubes.

Heat the oil in a nonstick sauté pan over a high heat until hot, add the garlic, ginger and chilli and stir-fry for a few seconds till fragrant. Stir in the stock, yellow bean sauce, rice wine and shoyu sauce and bring to the boil. Add the aubergine cubes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Slowly stir in the cornflour paste and cook until the sauce has thickened and turned transparent.

Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and serve immediately.

Yellow bean sauce and shoyu are probably only available from Asian food stores - or online for mail order if you don't have one locally. This is such a lovely dish that they are well worth hunting down.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Orange & Almond Cake

I seldom make sweet things except for special occasions. Dinner Sunday night was special enough for cake because it was the last night I'd see Vicki in London this trip before she jets back off to Singapore. We were joined for dinner by David. The three of us have known each other for the longest time - we shared a house when I very first came to London more than 20 years ago and we've been friends ever since, dining together frequently. I still find myself looking forward to the next time because it is invariably fun. The lovely boyfriend was the fourth and I think it's fun for him too - if it's not at least he gets to eat cake!

I'd made coq au vin as the main dish - it's a meal to make for special people because it takes time over two days before it is ready. The work is all done early on so by the time guests arrive you are free to join them in a glass of wine and the latest gossip. Perfect. I found the recipe for this cake in Rose Prince's 'The New English Kitchen' as an adaptation from Anna del Conte who is one of my favourite writers so I was sure it would be a good.

The almonds I bought from Brindisa - fat creamy heart shaped discs, Marcona almonds are native only to Spain. They are a wonderful nut, smooth and juicy with a sweet finish and good for you too, being rich in nutrients and mono unsaturated oils. They are well worth seeking out, and pounded to a rough crumb they produced a fine, moist cake.
This simple, elegant cake is good enough to turn me into a cakey pig - I'm already thinking about when I can make it again.

Orange & Almond Cake

150g/5oz blanched almonds, whole or flaked
3 eggs, separated
150g/5oz golden caster sugar
60g/2oz potato flour
1 1/2 oranges
a pinch of salt
30g/1oz butter, softened
icing sugar for dusting
crème fraîche for serving

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3. Chop the almonds in a food processor, or finely by hand, until they have a crumb-like texture. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the almonds and the potato flour. Grate the zest of the whole orange into the mixture, then add the juice of 1 1/2 oranges.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks. Fold them into the orange and egg mixture. Butter a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin - use all the butter; when it cooks it will be absorbed into the cake and form a delicious crust. Pour in the mixture and bake for 50 minutes, until the cake has shrunk from the sides of the tin and feels springy when you press the surface with a finger. Unmould the cake and cool on wire rack. Dust with icing sugar.

Serve on flat plates with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Potato flour is a very fine squeaky flour that I buy in Asian food stores - either Taj stores in Brick Lane or Wai Tan on Electric Avenue though I suspect you can probably get it in a good Italian deli like Camisa in Soho.

I Bought

Rain of the torrential variety swirled around us all weekend so we hit Borough Market expecting it to be fairly quiet. But no - the onset of autumn seemed to bring out the crowds looking to comfort themselves with fine food at home so mostly we were dealing with queues.

At Wyndhams Poultry I couldn't get a boiling fowl but I did get some frozen chicken's feet which delighted me no end. I am plannning to make a big pot of stock soon and had expected to have to order the feet specially. To my surprise they had some tucked away in the freezer. They are now in the freezer at home till next weekend when I'll add them to the pot for an unctuous silkiness to my soups and risottos. Also bought a whole chicken and some extra leg/thigh portions to make coq au vin as a special supper for Vicki before she returns to Singapore - £10.50

Ginger Pig was busy early and they had stewing steak on special at £7.50 a kilo so I bought some for slow cooked spiced beef as well as eggs and smoked bacon but I also wanted a pigs trotter to make the marinade for the chicken but they had sold out - must have been a run on them(!) - £11.40

Tried Silfield Farm for a pigs trotter without luck and then got a result at Northfields where they had a small mountain of pigs heads and trotters in the pork fridge, the butcher very kindly split it for me and it was only £1

Leeks, parsley, cucumber, aubergine and onions from the veg stall out the back - £4.20

Carrots and barley from Total Organics - £2.30

Mushrooms, sugar snaps, ratte potatoes, shallots, garlic, oranges - £6

Blanched almonds - fat and creamy - from Brindisa - £3

Then back past Ginger Pig and I bought a big fat golden scotch egg - £3

Guatamalan coffee from Monmouth - £11.50

Milk, yoghurt, crème fraîche and a ciabatta from Neals Yard - £7.10

At Flour Power I went to buy the now obligatory chocolate brownie for my sweetie and they had lots of bread piled up so, feeling that we were getting into a little rut with almost always only having ciabatta I bought a half of rosemary and potato bread that was crusted with Maldon salt to give us a little filip - and a brownie - £3.50

All in all it was £63.50 and we got in just ahead of the downpour