Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sea Trout Poached in White Wine

Continuing the experimentation with fish I had planned to buy some red mullet for a simple recipe from River Café but discovered when I got to Furness that it was £18 a kilo - the same price as veal chops at the Ginger Pig and £4 a kilo more than 45 day aged rump steak which I buy as an occasional treat. Just can't bring myself to pay that much for something I'm a bit uncertain about. Don't think I've ever eaten it even. So I bottled it on the mullet front and bought a couple of silvery sea trout for £3 each. Positive bargain.

Except that I didn't know what to do with them either! Flicked through a few recipes and the general consensus was for poaching. I had already bought tarragon at Booths for the stuffing for Sunday's roast lamb so that seemed like a good herb to add, along with the delicate fern of fennel from the garden and the spray of seeds. The man said slices of onion - he may know more than me so that was in too.

Sea Trout Poached in White Wine
2 very fresh sea trout
1 onion, peeled and very finely sliced
Half a dozen sprigs of fresh tarragon and the same of fennel
Half a teaspoon of fennel seeds
2 tbspn olive oil
200ml white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash the fish under a cold tap and pat dry. Put about half the onion and herbs into the cavity of the fish. Pour the olive oil into a baking dish big enough to hold the fish. Strew a little onion and some herbs ino the bottom of the pan then lay the fish on top. Top with the remaining aromatics and season generously. Pour around the white wine and cover the whole lot with foil.

Cook in a moderate/gas 5 oven for about 45-50 minutes. Serve onto warm plates with a little sauce drizzled over and accompanied by some new potatoes and buttered leeks.

They were perfectly cooked and the herbs added flavour and the sauce definitely adding a lift to the dish. I enjoyed it but not entirely - there was a vague muddy note to the fish and it wasn't entirely the kind of flavour and texture combination that I really go for. I liked the sauce the best! If I did make it again I might try the same method with a different fish perhaps. To do it again with this would be for the sake of having fish supper not because I really wanted it.

But I would like to try sea trout differently - wrapped in bacon and barbecued or char-grilled - a smoky crispy note might make them sing (or swim) for me!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cured Mackerel

Wikipedia - that wonderful source of endless information - says 'Mackerel is an oily-fleshed sea fish found throughout the oceans of the world. The flesh is strong-flavoured and the fish is bony, which means it is not a fish for beginners.' Guess what I bought Saturday!

Where fish is concerned I would certainly class myself a beginner. But I have to say the results of my experiment with this incredibly beautiful looking fish were spectacular - as close to perfect as you can get when you start off with an idea rather than a destination in mind. I have in the past cured fillets of salmon with very good results. Extrapolating from that I wondered about doing the same thing to mackerel because even though I do not like them cooked at all I have enjoyed mackerel sashimi.

On Saturday I went to Furness Fish and selected a couple of shiny tiger-skinned beauties. I asked the fishmonger to fillet and skin them for me - he is much more skilled and his knives are a hell of a lot sharper than mine. It took him less than a minute. The good news is that is all the hard work done.

Cured Mackerel
2 very fresh mackerel, filleted and skinned, leaving about 350g fish
1 bunch coriander, chopped stems and all
1 1/2 tbspns salt
1 1/2 tbspns sugar
1 tbspn grated ginger
Chopped zest of a lemon

Mix everything together except the fish.

Rub your fingers lightly over the flesh side to find any remaining bones - there may well be a few, as Wikipedia points out. They come out very easily with tweezers pulling in the direction they lie in the flesh. (Tweezers don't cost very much and are surprisingly useful in the kitchen for fiddly things.)

Put the fish into a ceramic or glass dish on what was the skin side down. Cover with the herb/salt/sugar mix and pat it into the flesh. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 12-18 hours. A lot of liquid will be drawn out of the fish and will pool in the dish.

Take the fillets from the dish, scrape off the topping, rinse briefly and pat dry with kitchen paper. Slice very thinly and serve - I had them with Japanese soy to dip, pickled ginger and trout roe and tiny cake forks though they would have worked well piled onto Japanese seaweed crackers I think. Had none to test that particular theory.

Utterly delightful. A most perfect amuse bouche with salty, sweet, spice and fishy in every forkful. We had it before lunch on Sunday with the lovely Marie. I wanted something entertaining and very light to fill the first half hour or so after she arrived.
I find if you lay out the usual big bowl of nuts or strips of raw veg to slather with dips that though it is very welcoming it does tend to take the edge off hunger. As I was serving cauliflower and truffle soup followed by roasted lamb stuffed with spinach and tarragon and full roast veg and then apple and walnut cake with Montgomery cheddar I wanted to keep the hunger in place for later.

Monday, November 26, 2007

And This Week... I Bought

Spectacularly cold at Borough Saturday morning - all the stallholders were wrapped up in woolly hats and big jumpers and fingerless gloves. Though I was wearing lots of layers I was thoroughly chilled by the time we finished shopping.

At the beginning we went to Ginger Pig for lamb bones but they had none so got a couple of veal bones instead -the lamb bones were meant to make base for sauce with Sunday's roast so these ended up in the freezer to use in a stew perhaps another time and two pork chops grilled for dinner Monday night with mash and sprouts and it was deeply pleasurable as well as quick and easy - £3.80

After that it was Furness Fish to continue the experiment aquatic. I bought two fat little mackerel that I had filleted and then cured and sliced and served with ginger and soy as an elegant little mouthful before lunch on Sunday and two sea trout that had been simply gutted which I poached in white wine and herbs and served with new potatoes and leeks for supper Saturday - £8.90

Then we went to Wild Beef for eggs - had one boiled with lunch on Thursday and used a couple in a not entirely successful apple and walnut cake on Sunday - £1.50

I was delighted to see the man from Seldom Seen at his stall again selling fabulous slices of cooked goose stuffed duck stuffed chicken perfect sandwich filling on Saturday. He's encouraging all his shoppers to supply their own bags and cut down on waste which can only be a good thing. Next week will be the last time he's there for the year so will have to seek him out - £2

Bought some Borough Market xmas cards - not sure if they qualify as part of the weekly shop but they are lovely - £7.50

Next was coffee at Monmouth - this week they had one lot of Costa Rican beans that were labelled Cup of Excellence and were twice the price of the rest. Turns out that CofE is a strict competition that selects the very best coffee produced in that country for that particular year - and then the beans are auctioned over the internet and sold to the highest bidder. The high price paid is a reward to the farmer for the excellence of their production. As a fan of Costa Rican coffee I couldn't resist - bought 250g of beans - it is certainly very very good - for £8

A little wander round the stalls on the far side made me tempted by a jar of shaved bottarga but resisted till I have a recipe in which to use it but was seduced by a jar of trout roe from Orkney Rose Sunday snack - £4.25

Then on to Booths for veg - potatoes various boiled, rasted and mashed (might do sauté this week to run the whole gamut), mushrooms stuffed the lamb, turnip mashed with lunch on Sunday because it was so good last week, leeks with fish, carrots, sugarsnaps lunchboxes, brussel sprouts Monday dinner, tarragon stuffing the lamb, cauliflower soup as a starter on Sunday and enough in the freezer for another starter, bananas, clementines lunchboxes - £9.90 the lot

A warm sausage roll for miss piggy's breakfast from Ginger Pig - £3

Half a kilo of spinach from Tony to stuff my lamb - £1.50

Milk, bread, pasta, cream and Montgomery cheddar from Neals Yard - £21.40

And an almond croissant from Flour Power and a square tin loaf I've been eyeing off for a while because the sign says 'makes great toast' they didn't lie and it's only a pound - £3.20

A reasonable £74.95

This time last year we really enjoyed Cinnamon Chicken.

So the week ended up

Saturday - sausage roll and almond croissant for brunch, goose sandwich for lunch poached fish with new potatoes and leeks for supper

Sunday - toast and coffee, followed by cured mackerel, then cauliflower and truffle soup, roast lamb stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and tarragon with gravy, roast potatoes, mashed turnip and peas followed by apple and walnut cake with Montgomery cheddar. No dinner surprisingly.

Monday - coffee and cereals - the man likes bran flakes, I like raw rolled oats, both with milk - same all week for both of us, cold lamb with leftover potatoes and raw veg for lunch, grilled pork chops with mash and sprouts for supper

Tuesday - cold lamb with white bean salad herbed with the rest of the tarragon and some herbs from the garden and raw veg, dinner was cauliflower soup with bread and cheddar

Wednesday - last of the lamb for lunch, pasta with porcini, tomato and cream for supper

Thursday the man had leftover pasta for lunch and I had a boiled egg, the last of the beans and some raw veg and we went to see Rhinoceros at the Royal Court so we had a lovely supper at Le Cercle beforehand

Friday - only fruit left so lunch will be bought then supper will be burgers from mince from the freezer with bread and salad with the last of the carrots and celery and organic vac packed beetroot that have been in the fridge for a while

As for leftovers there is still some cheese but it will be good Sunday on a cheese board and a few sprouts that may not go any further

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Venison Stew

A while ago the man and I spent a long weekend with his sister and her husband and family on their beautiful farm in Cornwall. They raise organic cattle - huge sleek beasts that are sold through a local butcher. They have also planted hundreds of trees to create ideal conditions for the regeneration of local wildlife and to replenish the land. It is a programme that requires taking the long view - none of the hurried immediacy of city life. It is years in the making. One of the benefits of the small forest they have created is the return of wild deer. Their numbers have now grown so much that they must be culled once a year to retain the eco balance. His sister had a freezer stuffed with venison - lucky woman! We feasted one night on a saddle slow roasted in the Aga served up with cranberry and port sauce and a full medley of vegetables - wonderful food.

Wild venison has been eaten for centuries in the UK. Samuel Pepys was a fan. On 5th July 1662 he writes in his diary: "I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done." The umbles - the heart, liver and entrails - often baked into a pie though in the 14th century they were called numbles. It is possible that the baking of them into pies caused the change in name - a numble pie became an umble pie. That the lights are most likely to be eaten by the poor is thereby likely to be the source of the further transformation to humble pie - isn't language wonderful?
Anyway as we left for home our charming hosts were kind enough to be give us a sizeable piece of venison for eating another day. It went into our freezer as summer was approaching. Last week as the winter slipped in with blue skies and frozen nights I realised it was time to make my first ever venison stew. A little research suggested marinating for a couple of days was a good idea and so that was where I started. I defrosted the meat and the flesh was dark to the point of purple nights with no fat to be seen at all.
I wanted a final dish that was reminsicent of the woods, rather than the sweetness of berries or citrus which are often the suggested flavourings. So after marinating the meat for a couple of days in red wine with onions, bay and parsley I slow cooked it with field mushrooms and celery for a really rich dark stew. Carrots added to finish added just a hint of sweetness and a splash of colour.

Venison Stew

1kg stewing venison, cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
6 celery stalks, thickly sliced on the diagonal
300g field mushrooms, thickly sliced
25g plain flour
Salt and black pepper
200g carrots, peeled and sliced to the thickness of a pound coin


1/2 bottle red wine
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp coriander seeds
6 juniper berries, roughly crushed
A few parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf

In a large bowl combine the red wine, oil, onion, coriander, juniper, parsley sprigs and bay leaf. Toss the venison cubes in the marinade to coat them thoroughly, cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge, turning occasionally, for 2 days.

Lift the venison and onion out of the marinade. Strain and reserve the marinade.
Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole, add the venison and onion and cook for 10 minutes until well browned. Lift out onto a plate.

Lower the heat, add the celery and mushrooms, and cook for a few minutes until softened. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually blend in the marinade and bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.

Return the venison, onion, celery, and mushrooms to the casserole and season to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and cook in a preheated over at 100C, Gas 1 for 3 or 4 hours. Turn off the heat and leave to cool.

Next day add the carrots and bring to a simmer on the top of the stove. Simmer very gently for up to an hour till all is tender.

We had it with turnip mashed with butter and pepper and some brussel sprouts and it was a proper winter supper. There was plenty more for the next night but it would also freeze well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Spice Crusted Salmon with Mint Chutney

I wonder on and off about eating more fish - it is healthy, provides oils not found elsewhere, and generally adds a different texture and flavour to dishes. It has a whole repertoire that I seldom tap in to. There are reasons for this - I haven't cooked much fish so it is not familiar and is therefore daunting. I do not like 'fishy' fish - the strong flavour of oily fish - though I do like mackerel raw and I do think tastes can be acquired. There is the whole vexed matter of sustainability, the disastrous decline in native fish stocks in UK waters. I confess I do not know enough about it to shop wisely - though it is true that that is easily remedied with some research. It is reasonably expensive to buy most fish and that makes me tentative - if I cook it badly then it's a bruising defeat.

But when I was making the vague list that accompanies us every week on the trip to Borough Market on Friday evening I asked the man what he'd like for dinner Saturday and he said 'Fish'. So that was it. I'd enjoyed watching Hugh Fearmley-Whittingstall's programme on fish in the week, and was taken with his pleasure in organic farmed salmon - good quality fish that is sustainably produced. Flicking through some cookbooks it took a while for something to really leap out at me - but eventually I found this in Christine Manfield's Spice. It was simple and utterly delicious. Fast too - from go to whoah in half an hour.

Spice Crusted Salmon
2 pieces of organic salmon fillet, about 150 - 200g per piece
150ml vegetable oil
1 large dried chilli
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 tspn black peppercorns
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
1 tspn brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoons nigella seeds
1/4 tspn ground cassia (I didn't have any but it didn't matter)
1/4 tspn ground ginger
2 tspns salt
20g chick pea (gram) flour

To make the spice crust, in a small frypan dry roast chilli and whole spices except mustard and nigella seeds over gentle heat until fragrant and slightly coloured. Cool then grind to a fine powder - in a pestle and mortar is the hard way, in an old coffee grinder is the easy way. Stir in mustard and nigella seeds, ground cassia and ginger, salt and chick pea flour.

Coat the fish thoroughly.

Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan and cook the fish for 3 minutes until fish is a paler pink at the base. Turn fish over and cook for another 2 minutes. The fish should be rosy-rare in the middle and crusted gold on the outside.

Mint Chutney

1 cup firmly packed mint leaves
6 spring onions, sliced
3 small chillis, sliced
1 tspn minced ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tspn fish sauce
2 tspns castor sugar
1 tspn garam masala
60ml fresh lime juice
50ml vegetable oil

Blend all the ingredients to a smooth paste, adding the oil slowly. Spoon into a bowl for serving. It will keep refrigerated in a jar for a couple of days.
We had the fish with chutney drizzled, generous servings of cucumber raita and boiled ratte potatoes. It was a seriously good meal - better perhaps than I was expecting. Which makes me think I may cook a little more fish soon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Still feels very cold for mid November so rugged up for Borough. Inside the market halls it somehow feels significantly colder - brrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Started with juice from Chegworth just for a change and got some apples - for lunches and to make a cake which I haven't quite managed but will this weekend - too - £3.62

Then to Ginger Pig for a lovely piece of topside - roasted Sunday night then cold for splendid lunch boxes till Thursday - £16.20

Furness was next as we're trying to eat some fish more regularly. There were two salmon side by side - one the colour of flourescent crab sticks and one that could accurately be described as salmon pink. The latter was organic and though more expensive was what we chose. Two nice centre fillets - spice crusted and served with mint chutney for a memorable Saturday night supper - £8.40

No eggs or cheeses this week so after a vague wander round the other side it was with delight we found the stall from Seldom Seen and so bought a slice of their speciality - goose stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken - an amazing feat - and a great sandwich filler -£3

Then it was back to Booths for lots of veg - potatoes roasted Sunday, cucumber, mint both to go with salmon Saturday, clementines lunches, mushrooms, celery, carrots all to go into earthy venison stew, sprouts, turnip to go with the venison stew, the turnip simply mashed with butter and the other half of the sprouts in a vegetable curry Thursday night with leftovers for Friday lunch, parsnips, butternut roasted hot Sunday night and cold for a day or two in lunchboxes, beans into fried rice Friday night and sugarsnaps a little limp this week but ok in lunchboxes for a couple of days- £10

A scotch egg from Ginger Pig scoffed for brunch after the market - £3

Bread and milk from Neals Yard - £6.50

Almond croissant from Flour Power was the final flourish - £2.20

A not unreasonable £52.92

This time last year we were mostly eating roasted butternut risotto and the fabulous pock-marked woman's bean curd.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Black Olive Paste

I have been making this dip for about twenty years - it is simplicity itself. Though it takes no time at all you end up with a really beautiful bowl of dip. A deep oily black flecked with tiny bits of green herbs you essentially can't go wrong with making this. Just remember to err on the side of generosity as you add the herbs.

Perfect with drinks, it's a good one to have up your sleeve as xmas approaches. It's a star at parties.

Black Olive Paste

200g black olives, pitted (you can cheat and buy them ready stoned)
1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Mix of green herbs including parsley, thyme, rosemary and basil
Fresh ground black pepper
A little olive oil to loosen the mix - or basil oil if you have some

Put everything into a blender or a bowl and use a stick blender. Whizz the mix, adding some oil to make it amalgamate, until everything is roughly chopped.

That's it. Sooooooooooooooooooo easy
It will live happily in the fridge, covered, for weeks. It is wonderful partnered with celery and peeled carrot batons and also nice with hard cheeses as part of a cheese platter. You can cook with it too - makes a great stuffing for chicken breasts or lamb. Adding a small chilli would give it a sparkly heat.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oxtail Lasagne

Oxtail as a part of supper is a sure sign that the mercury is falling. It is not (necessarily) the meat from ox - it can be from any beef cattle but it is definitely the tail. I ordered two from Wild Beef a couple of weeks ago. Each animal only has one tail (!) so as oxtail has enjoyed a renaissance over the last few years it is sensible to ask in advance to be sure they will be there. I picked them up, ready jointed, quite interesting things like a jigsaw tail that you could remake should you be so minded.

Largely bone - and luscious marrow - surrounded with coarse but sweetish flesh the only way to prepare oxtail is slowly. The time spent is richly rewarded though - starting with the lovely smell of slow cooking that fills your home through to the extraordinarily richly flavoured meal that you eventually enjoy. Most of the preparation is very quick - the time involved is largely marination and casseroling rather than anything complicated. The meat soaks in a rich juice for a day and then slow cooks in the oven for many hours and then cools to a point where the fat can be skimmed and the meat taken from the bones. After that it's just like making lasagne!

Oxtail Lasagne

For the oxtail

About 2 kgs oxtail jointed
500 ml red wine
Bouquet garni of bay, thyme and rosemary
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
l litre brown chicken stock
salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce

1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tins plum tomatoes
Sprig of rosemary
Salt and pepper

For the cheese sauce

25g butter
1 tbspn plain flour
1 litre whole milk
1/2 tspn fresh grated nutmeg
150g sheeps cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Dried lasagne sheets


For the ox tail

Put the oxtail pieces in a bowl with the wine, thyme, rosemary and bayleaf and leave to marinate overnight.. When ready to use preheat the oven to gas 1. Remove the oxtail from the bowl and pat dry, reserving the marinade. Heat about 3 tbspns of olive oil in a pan till smoking hot and carefully brown the meat all over until almost black. Remove from the pan and put them in an oven proof dish.

Wipe the pan clean. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the carrots and onion gently until soft. Add the reserved marinade and the stock and boil until reduced by half. Pour over the oxtail then transfer the dish to the oven and cook for 7-8 hours, until the meat falls from the bone. Take the dish out of the oven and remove the oxtail pieces from the dish. Strain the stock through a fine sieve. When the meat is cool enough to handle, pull it into smaller chunks, removing any fat, gristle or bone. Mix the meat with the reduced stock and season to taste.

Put half the mixture into a tub for the freezer to use another time, the rest is for the base of the lasagne.

For the tomato sauce

Fry the onion and garlic gently for about 20 minutes, till translucent. Increase the heat and add the tomatoes - break them up with a wooden spoon if they are whole - and rosemary and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer on a very low heat for about an hour. It is best to make the tomato sauce the day ahead of the lasagne - it will give it a greater depth of flavour as well as making prep on the day very quick. Remove the rosemary stick before using.

For the cheese sauce

In a heavy pan melt the butter and then stir in the flour. Keep stirring for about five minutes until it is golden in colour and smells biscuity. Increase the heat a little and start slowly adding milk, stirring all the while. By adding it gradually the sauce won't become lumpy. As each addition is absorbed add some more until you reach a consistency of thick cream. Turn the heat up fairly high then add the grated nutmeg and most of the grated cheese. Stir well with a wooden spoon till the cheese melts into the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To assemble

In a large deep baking tray spread the base with the oxtail. Cover with sheets of lasagne then top that with the tomato sauce. Add another layer of lasagne sheets then top with the cheese sauce and, lastly the remains of the grated cheese. Cook in a moderate oven, gas 4, for 50 - 60 minutes till piping hot and golden topped.

Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. Needs nothing more than a crisp green salad and lots of bread to mop up the juice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Spicy Squid

Who'd have thought it was so easy to cook squid? Straight I mean, with the little criss cross patterns and the lovely curls. We had friends coming to supper Saturday night and, due to the fact we were also going out for lunch, I needed something quick to make as a starter in case we were late back - which we were. On Friday afternoon, just as I was about to turn off my computer for the day, I noticed that the Guardian website had a video of Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall cooking spiced squid - and it lasted less than two minutes. As I had three minutes left to my day I watched it with the sound running low. Amazing how much you can learn in so little time.

Inside the squid tubes there is a ridge. You hold that section of the squid and, with a sharp knife, cut the tubes open on the opposite side so that the ridge is like a halfway divider on the opened out fish. Wipe with a cloth and this will come away quite easily. Then, using a not particularly sharp serrated kitchen knife - table rather than bread - cut diagonal lines into the flesh but not all the way through. Turn the squid 180 degrees and cut more diagonal lines to make cross hatching. Then slice the squids into strips about 3 cm wide.

The criss crosses serves two functions. When the flesh is marinated it catches the mix and holds it - it tends to slide off the pearly smooth outer side. Then, when the pieces hit a strong heat, they cuts contract and the flesh curls into those pretty pieces I've seen so often served up in restaurants.

For the marinade I just used a couple of finely chopped chillies and a couple of crushed cloves of garlic mixed with about a tablespoon of olive oil and some ground black pepper. Mix it with your hands - its has a lovely silky texture as it slithers through your fingers.

Heat a ridged grill pan as hot as you can then put in the pieces of squid, smooth side down. Using kitchen tongs, flip over after about a minute onto the cross hatching. The heat will make the pieces curl so, after another minute, turn them over again to cook the outside of the curls.

Voila! Your starter is ready. Plate up with some peppery rocket dressed with a spicy oil and some crusty bread.

Monday, November 12, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Waited ages for a bus Saturday morning - seemed none were heading towards Borough Market, then the coffee kicked in and I finally realised it was because the City was closed for the Lord Mayor's Show. Then the bus came.

Started as ever at Ginger Pig - where there is still no sign of Chris and the only sign of Karl is the one out the front with his number to call if you want to do the last of the butchery classes for the year. Bought a piece of gammon for the weeks lunches - £16.50

Then a lovely pork pie for Sunday lunch! - £4.90

This week the one off stall outside Roast was yorkshire crisps of many varities in resealable tubs. The lightly salted ones were very good so bought a tub - these were better than good so it's lucky they're not there every week or I would succumb - £2

Eggs from Wild Beef - had intended to use at least two poached on a friton salad in the week but it didn't happen so they're still in the fridge but they'll be fine next week £1.50

Then to Gastronomica because I needed some truffle cheese to make a sauce for lasagne and - disaster! - none till next week. So bought a big chunk of strong sheeps cheese- sauce to top lasagne - and a rocchetta - cheese sandwiches Thursday night - and we tried a piece of chocolate pannettone that was simply sublime and just had to have one for dessert Saturday night with David and Michael and so with the addition of a smoked mozzarella snacked it was £30 - an even split, half cake half cheese

Went to the Gastronomica shop then to try nduke - a spreadable salami that is 30% chilli - very hot but very good so bought a little slice, in the fridge but it will keep, might be a treat this weekend on celery - £2

Coffee beans - start the day -from Monmouth - £8.50

Creamy white baby squid spiced and grilled for Saturday's starter - from Furness Fish - £7

Booths for veg - sweetheart cabbage half with sausage and mash Wednesday night, potatoes mash!, lettuce , rocket - weekend salads, peppers - meant for a roasted salad to go with the squids but it didn't happen so will cook them with bacon and the last of the sugarsnaps Friday night for supper, shallots - untouched in the veg drawer, cucumber - some in weekend salad some still in the crisper, celery with black olive paste whilst menu planning for food chain Thursday night, parsley - to cook gammon and to add to olive paste, clementines - lunches - carrots to cook gammon, with sausage and mash (for colour) and raw in lunches, sugarsnaps lunches raw and cooked in pasta with peppers Friday, chicory will still be okay for weekend salad - £11

Neals Yard for milk and bread - £6.60

And the prices have finally gone up at Flour Power - almond croissant is now £2.20

A fairly hefty £92.20 for the week

This time last year I was in Bali - the only cooking I did was a day at Bumbu. Have made one or two things since I came back - spiced beef was good, bali salad is sublime. Spicy chicken stuffed with spinach was pretty special too.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Groundnut Stew

Last night I made groundnut stew for our dinner. It was a variation on an African recipe from Sunday at Moosewood - a massive tome of a book that I've had for years and dip into for inspiration for vegetarian delights. It offers insights and recipes from many countries and the results are almost always good.

I know very little about any food of African origin beyond their use of millet as a cooked grain in the way that I use rice and that most stews are thickened with ground nuts or seeds which is pretty poor really. The food of a whole continent is unfamiliar.

So I read through the chapter on the southern african and decided I would try groundnut stew. One ingredient was okra - a vegetable that I find utterly disagreeable in all its slimy incarnations, so I didn't put that on the shopping list but I did buy sweet potatoes and cabbage, I had some green beans in the fridge needed using so I substituted those for the okra and I had some tomatoes from the garden that I'd ripened in a paper bag. I bought pre packed tomato and apple juice so I was ready to roll.

Except that I had no idea what final dish I was attempting so I was suddenly filled with misgivings Thursday night when I got home, convinced it would be a disaster. Cabbage boiled in tomato juice - just didn't seem like a good starting point. So I read through the recipe again and decided that the biggest thing that didn't ring true was the spicing - half a teaspoon of cayenne, and one each of garlic and ginger simply didn't seem enough to have any effect.

When I first came to London I was planning to cook something one night that required some chilli. As I was in Brixton I went to one of the African groceries and bought a 500g tin of nigerian chilli powder. The first time I used it I was very generous with my measures - a habit of mine - and nearly blew the top of my head off it was so hot. But somewhere in the midst of the burning sensation was also an amazing flavour, so I kept the tin and practised using small amounts. Twenty years later I am coming to the end of that tin - I will go to Brixton and hopefully buy another when it's finished - but it seemed to me that it would be the source of reassurance I was looking for to make my groundnut stew. Using only a scant teaspoon I was delighted to smell its rich toasty aroma as it hit the heat and it was indeed the key. The final dish was lovely - deep terracotta, sweet and spicy and rich.

And, for the man and me, something entirely new.

Groundnut Stew

1 large spanish onion, finely chopped
2 tbspns peanut oil - this adds flavour but use vegetable oil if you have none
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tspn hot chilli powder - african if you're lucky enough to find some
1 small sweetheart cabbage, shredded but not too finely
1 large red sweet potato, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tomatoes, chopped
600ml tomato juice
200ml apple juice
Salt and pepper to taste
150g fine green beans, topped and tailed and cut in half
100g peanut butter - smooth or crunchy is fine
4 tbspns chopped coriander leaves

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion for about 15 minutes till translucent. Stir through the garlic and chilli powder and cook for a few more minutes. Add the sweet potato and cabbage, cover and sweat in the pan over a medium heat for five minutes. Add the ginger, tomatoes, both of the juices and the salt and pepper and simmer till the sweet potato is almost tender - about twenty minutes. Toss in the green beans and cook for a few minutes. Then stir in the peanut butter - it will instantly thicken the stew and turn it an even richer colour

Warm through gently. Add the coriander just before serving. We had it with a little spiced banana - probably too sweet and likely should have been plantain - and some sourdough bread for starch. Tonight I will have some brown rice and perhaps a boiled egg with the leftovers.

The end result was a fabulous dinner using seasonal vegetables and the pleasure of having tried something really new, to be daring. Perhaps fortune really does favour the brave.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fruit Cake

The recipe here is for a boiled fruit cake which to modern ears sounds decidedly dire, somehow nasty. In part perhaps because fruit cake is going out of fashion - it is all baked froth with garish icing at one end of the market and fresh cream and french butter at the other. It's a shame really - a good fruit cake is a joy. It is a properly substantial cake - bringing mine into work on the bus it seemed to weigh a tonne - with a spiced crumb wrapped around fatttened fruits, perhaps with the addition of a little heat from glacé ginger or a sour tang from a dollop of marmalade early in the mix. Each cake is different but it's not a temperamental thing to make. You can boil the first set of ingredients and leave it with a lid on overnight till you have time next day to add eggs and flour and it will still cook to perfection. Once finished it will last for ages, dark and moist and inviting in an airtight tin, needing only a cup of something hot to bring a little pleasure to the day.

This recipe comes from my grandmother Dodie via my mother and, for all intents and purposes, I have been eating it all my life. The handing on of this recipe, its history, adds to its specialness. It's important to keep the best of the old fashioned stuff - the continuity enriches today in a way that something new simply doesn't.

Dodie’s Boiled Fruit Cake

500g packet mixed fruit
Plus any little extras eg ginger, citrus peel, marmalade etc
1 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
125 g (4oz) butter
1 tspn mixed spice
½ tspn ground ginger
1 tspn bicarb of soda
2 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1 cup self raising flour

Put all the ingredients down to the ground ginger into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add bicarb and stir while it fizzes and foams. Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pan and leave it to cool.

When the cake mixture is cold, first stir in the eggs and then the flour.

Cook at 150F/ gas 3 for about an hour or so…perhaps a little longer (says my mother). It is cooked when a skewer into the centre comes out clean.

Pour a little sherry over the hot cake. Leave it to cool in the cake pan it was cooked in which you cover with foil and then a bread board or tea towel. This makes for a nice moist cake.

I covered it with lemon and coconut icing because that's the way I have always eaten it but the icing is definitely optional.

Monday, November 05, 2007

And this week ... I bought

It was my birthday weekend, the sun was shining and all was right with the world. Borough Market is good in the sun.

Started as always at Ginger Pig for a couple of thick t-bone steaks - proper Australian party food Sunday night with a little salad and a glass of fine red. Bought a chicken as well - had some cooked rice in the fridge and some bacon so it would make a good stuffing - a pretty fab lunch box for the week, and a couple of pork chops - had meant them for Monday night but there was cold steak and salad so the pork is in the freezer - a whopping £36.80 (but I'm worth it!)

Where the big turkish fruit and nut stall used to be outside the entrance to roast there is now a collection of different traders for a one off day at the market. We were waylaid by the sight of dozens of golden cased pies but, with all that meat, we really didn't need one even with the buy one get one free the nice man was offering. Further round I couldn't resist trying a sample of hot beef sausage from Blackbrook Farm's one off stall and it was good. Called over to the man - he is a sausage officianado - he agreed. So, despite the fact that I am trying to empty the freezer at the moment I bought a pack to eat at a later date and freeze in the meantime - £3.80

A dozen eggs from Wild Beef - no Lizzie or Richard but a young man serving - eggs into fruitcake and stuffing and a couple boiled hard to top salade nicoise Wednesday night -£2.50

No cheeses from Gastronomica as we hadn't finished all from last week, but it is now!

Back over to the other side for apples - lunches - from Chegworth - £1.20

Bought wonderful mozzarella and parma ham from the stall that sells nothing else for decadent sandwiches for Saturday lunch - £8.20

At Booths I saw my friend Andrea - it was nice to have a chat and she recommended the clementines as particularly good so we had some of those as well as carrots, onions, lettuce, rocket, peppers, sweet potatoes for groundnut stew Thursday night with enough leftover for supper Friday, aubergine meant it for the groundnut stew but decided against using it so it will be okay in the next few days, sweetheart cabbage with carrots for coleslaw in lunches that was just fantastic, sugarsnap peas and bananas - a very reasonable £7.50

Feeling decidedly Miss Piggy I bought a scotch egg for my breakfast from Ginger Pig - £3

Neals Yard for milk and bread - £7.40

The man wanted almond croissant and the brownie can't be forgotten - £3.50

A not altogether outrageous £73.90 - even with t-bone

This time last year I made chocolate truffle cake for my birthday and we were also enjoying penne with aubergine, mozzarella and tomato. Possibly a use for my aubergine!