Friday, October 31, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

Saturday night will be fish night I think - I have so much stuff otherwise in the freezer that the plan is to run it down and try and buy less for a few weeks. So fish will be the treat, possibly something spiced not spiced but steamed aromatic cod. Sunday I think I shall have spiced shoulder of lamb with roasted winter veg like swede and celeriac had the lamb with rosemary and garlic and sweet potatoes and swede with ginger and chilli and it was good. Monday we are out early on for culture at a private view of the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Tate so will have a quick pasta on our return or a spinach omelette topped with gorgonzola. Tuesday it's my birthday - yay! - so the man is taking me out for a most magnificent dinner at Bar Shu. Wednesday is school night but the man is meeting his parents for an early supper so I may well have scrambled eggs eggs were used Monday, the man didn't meet his folks so we had the last of the pork and beans from the freezer - will have to make more. Thursday a stirfry I think instead it was pasta with porcini and sage, and Friday grilled sausage sandwiches with caremalised onions.

Borough was quiet and calm - and cold first thing Saturday. For the first time in I don't know how long I didn't go to the Ginger Pig - am determined to clear a little space in the freezer. Started at Booths - bought potatoes - still there but fine for using next week, swede roasted with sweet potatoes and ginger Sunday, cabbage still there but fine, lettuce to make a bed for the steamed fish Saturday and the rest will be salad with sausages Friday, cucumber salad Friday, basil some for the fish and the rest of what was a big bunch I decided I would turn into basil oil, because I LOVE basil oil. Sunday I went into Sainsburys and bought 2 500ml glass botttles of olive oil, went home, stripped the leaves from the stalks, put them into a pan with the oil, brought it to a simmer, infused it till the oil was cold again, pushed the leaves into the base of the bottles, decanted the oil onto the leaves, screwed the lids on. Then, with greasy fingers I picked up an oily bottle and, like all the best horror scenarios, watched as the bottle slipped from my hands and very very slowly headed downwards and then smashed on the floor, glass, leaves and oil for miles. It took so long to happen I had time to think very clearly it's okay, the lid is on securely. Fat lot of difference that made - it took me an hour to clear up the mess and sugarsnaps lunches for a round £10

Going back past the front of Brindisa the smoked salmon stall was back - yay! a decadent topping for toast after the market - £5 a tub

Then to Furness for some cod steaks steamed Saturday - two thick ones cost £11.20

To Tony's for peppers was thinking roasted salad but they are still in the fridge, parsley for the cod and spinach was buttered and beautiful with the cod - £4

Eggs omelette Monday night from Wild Beef - £1.50

At Neals Yard they had some short dated strawberry yoghurt, when I was a kid I loved strawberry yoghurt but it has become too sweet in the intervening years but I couldn't resist so I bought one and it was just as good as the olden days as well as milk and an english stick thought we'd have bread with dinner Saturday but didn't so I froze it and we'll have it with sausages Friday night - £6.35

Then to Flour Power for more bread toast! and a brownie for my sweetheart - £3

A mere £41.05 - a totally bargain week

I have also bought olive oil, cream cheese, butter, brown sugar and icing sugar. I also bought rice at Wing Yip - £5.60 for 2kgs - I'm sure it was only £4.50 last time I bought some

This time last year we were mostly eating my grandmother's fruit cake and my first groundnut stew.

Pilaff Rice

This is quick, simple and fabulous.

I wanted our dinner Saturday night to be special so I'd dug out my copy of Gordon Ramsay's Secrets for inspiration. It's a great book, with some easy to follow recipes that usually end in a delightful meal. I decided we'd have fish, and was tempted by steamed aromatic cod. He suggested pilaff rice as an accompaniment - and I could see how good that would be.

We had a roasted chicken last week, hot Sunday and then cold in lunches for the week. By Saturday morning all I had left was the carcass. So, with two minutes effort and an hour on the hob while we breakfasted, this was the source of stock to make this rice dish. Gold star to me for frugality resulting from integrated cooking.

And that was as difficult as it got. By cooking this in the oven there is as close to no work involved and almost no chance of anything going wrong. You end up with delicately scented perfectly cooked individual grains of rice.

Pilaff Rice

250g basmati rice
50g ghee or clarified butter
1 small Spanish onion, chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
6 cardamom pods, seeds only
Pared zest of ½ an unwaxed lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
600ml chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 4. Tip the rice into a sieve and rinse well under cold running water until it runs clear.

Cut a circle of greaseproof paper slightly larger than the dish you are planning to cook the rice in, and make a small cut in the centre of it to act as a vent. This is called a cartouche - knowing that may one day win you £1million on millionaire.

Melt two thirds of the ghee or clarified butter in a heatproof casserole dish and sauté the onion until soft.

Add the rice, then stir in the bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom seeds and cook for 1 minute. Throw in the lemon zest with some seasoning and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover with the greaseproof. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes before removing the cartouche. Dot the remaining ghee or clarified butter on top. Fork through to separate and fluff up the rice, removing the whole spices before serving.

It was lovely with the steamed fish and would be equally good with just some dahl or vegetable curries, or alongside tandoori chicken - in fact it is so easy and tastes so good it is a really useful dish to have up your sleeve.

Friday, October 24, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

So absolutely don't know! There is a mass of food in the freezer and I must start to use it. So - might do fish Saturday had mussels with chilli and black beans and perhaps roast chicken stuffed with rice and herbs served with boiled pink fir potatoes and leeks that made a lovely salad to go with leftovers for lunches Sunday night. Monday I am delighted that my friend Adrienne and her husband are visiting from Mauritius so we shall have something special - I'm thinking duck and walnut salad followed by beef daube and mashed potatoes had the daube but had cauliflower soup to start and cheese and chocolates to finish but we shall see. Tuesday stirfry and spiced aubergine had a vegetable curry with rice with brussel sprouts and carrots, Wednesday we might finally get the pork and beans from the freezer we did Yay!, Thursday grilled pork chops utterly fabulous egg, bacon and chips. Friday omelette and salad we shall have the stirfry we didn't have Tuesday.

Started at Ginger Pig and bought a chicken and also got some pork fat for free. It's a sizeable piece of sweet creamy fat that I cut into quarters, froze three of them, and finely diced the remaining piece to add richness to my beef daube - £14.25

Booths for sweet potatoes, new potatoes, leeks, a stick of bright green brussel sprouts, a cauliflower, bananas - £7.20

Chocolates from L'Artisan du Chocolat - 2 bags - £4

Mussels from Furness - £5.50

Cheese from Gastronomica - a hunk of truffled pecorino and an oozing slice of gorgonzola - £10 the pair
Coffee from Monmouth - £9

Milk and bread and cream from Neals Yard - £7.40

A hot sausage roll from Ginger Pig - £3 - a bargain!

Bread and brownie from Flour Power - £3

A not unreasonable £63.65

I also bought butter, more cheese, nibbly crackers, a loaf of sourdough from St Johns and some rice.

The only thing I threw away was the last of the vegetable curry - eggshells and coffee grounds and scraps all went to the worms - who are multiplying happily and getting fat on Borough cast offs!

This time last year we were mostly eating hot cabbage salad and before that roast beef!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cabbage & Coconut

There's a fabulous little chain of restaurants in Bangkok called Cabbages & Condoms which serves amazing food and then hands out condoms instead of mints at the end of the meal. The thinking is that cabbages are a common food in Northeast Thailand, in fact they are a staple part of the diet, they are grown in every village and everybody eats them. If condoms could be as common and used as often, then some of the population and health problems facing Thailand could be overcome. Seems like a great idea to me.
We ate there the night we arrived in Bangkok - I remember being relieved to find the room was coolly airconditioned. We were decidedly jet lagged and as yet unused to the grasping heat having come from London in November. Dinner was good, on the way out we bought some postcards decorated with condoms, then as we walked back to our hotel in the sweaty night air we had to share the pavement with an elephant. Also, presumably, on its way home. It is an indelible memory.

This recipe has nothing to do with Thailand or elephants. Or condoms. But as I typed the title at the top of this post I was suddenly transported to that night in that city of delight.

Last night I made a few Indian dishes with rice for dinner and enjoyed them all but liked this one the best. It is quick and easy and richly scented. I made little kashmiri lamb burgers and dry spiced beans as well. The whole meal worked really well but you could as well have this just with rice or naan and perhaps some crispy fritters. It comes from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook.

Spicy Fried Cabbage

half a large cabbage
4 tbspns sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 or 3 fresh red chilies, seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbspn fresh ginger, grated
1 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn salt, or to taste
2 tbspns dessicated coconut

Shred the cabbage coarsely. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion and chillies until soft. Add garlic and ginger and fry, stirring, until golden. Add turmeric and cabbage, toss the cabbage thoroughly in the spicy oil, then cover and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until the cabbage is just tender.

Sprinkle with salt and mix well, then add coconut and stir to mix thoroughly. If there is any liquid in the bottom of the pan, leave the lid off and stir over a medium heat till all the liquid is absorbed.

Serve as an accompaniment to rice and curries.

It would also be good with some cucumber raita.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crumbed Cod

I really fancied some fish this week, simply crumbed and fried and possibly served with chips but all home made, partly because our local chippie is not much good. And partly because I made some fresh soft breadcrumbs a few weeks ago with leftover bread and put them into a big glass jar in the pantry. They catch my eye every day, making me want to use them. They are as far from the toxic orange sand that comes in packets from the supermarket as it is possible to be. They are large (relatively) and softly white, like curls of fluff and seemed to promise crispy golden casing of whatever I rolled them in. What joy!

Initially I was thinking of making fish cakes - it is such a long long time since I made any but last week, at Furness, I caught sight of the Whitby cod fillets and settled on them as my crumb center of choice. The fish is line caught and spanking fresh. I decided against chips - or even potato of any ilk - and went for a simpler dish with roasted peppers dressed with basil oil and a little mound of peppery watercress to make a really beautiful plate of food.

Crumbed Cod
for 2
2 fillets of cod, about 180g each
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Sunflower oil

About half an hour before you plan to eat set out 2 dinner plates and a shallow bowl. Tip the flour onto one plate and season generously. Tip the breadcrumbs onto the other plate. Beat the egg in the bowl and put the bowl between the two plates. Place a clean dinner plate after the plate of crumbs place. You need to do all this in advance as your hands get a ready coating of crumbs and it's just too complicated to try and retrieve something you have forgotten.

You are ready to crumb.

Pick up the first fillet and dredge it in the flour so that both sides are entirely coated in a thin layer of flour. Then dunk the fillet into the beaten egg, making sure there is a film of egg over the whole piece. Then dunk the fish into the crumbs, making sure the whole piece is covered.

Then, and this is the secret that will make your fish supper sublime, (and your fingers messy) dunk the fish into the egg again and then into the crumbs so that you have a lovely even coating. Place the well crumbed fillet onto the empty plate.

Repeat with the other fillet. Cover the fish with clingfilm and put it into the fridge for half an hour or so. This sets the crumb making it less likely to float straight off when the fish goes into the pan.

In a non stick pan heat about 2 tablespoons of oil till very hot. If the temperature is too low the oil will simply soak into the crumbs and be disgusting. When the oil is ready add the fillets and leave to cook, uncovered for 3-4 minutes, depending on the thickness. With a fish slice, flip each one over, so that the golden crumbs are now facing up. Continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes, when the whole fillet should be cased in deep rough golden crumbs.

Have a plate ready with a double layer of kitchen paper or a paper bag. When the fish is cooked remove it with a fish slice and put it briefly onto the paper to remove any excess oil. Then put onto dinner plates and serve with salad or chips and crusty bread.

Making your own breadcrumbs is really easy - as well as frugal and you end up with much better quality crumbs than any you buy prepacked. Cut the bread into thickish slices and, when you are next using the oven for something else, put the sliced bread onto the lower rack and leave to dry out for 10 minutes or so. Then break the bread up into the bowl of a food processor and whizz to your desired crumb size.

Feel smug at fresh food that has saved you money and cut your waste. Followed by a great dinner. What could be more perfect?

Friday, October 17, 2008

And this week I wanted, I bought, I made

I have a hankering for crumbed cod and salad so that may well be Saturday night special this week -and it was wonderful. Perhaps roast pork had a sudden irrational urge to not have roast - feels like it's terribly repetitive and almost lazy so ended up having cheese on toast after lunch out on Sunday. Monday a curry for a change kind of, had kashmiri lamb burgers, cabbage and coconut, dry spiced beans and rice with this as the basis for lunches till Thursday, then pasta perhaps Tuesday pork and noodle soup instead, may get the pork and beans out this week for after French class Wednesday was invited to a food bloggers event at the Kitchen so that was my class and made four dishes to bring home so was starving when I got in and had veal saltimbocca that I had made earlier and it was just lovely, noodles Thursday so we had a selection of dishes from the Kitchen that cried out to be eaten, so we had lentil samosas with lime crême fraiche and the man had cod fillet topped with a herb crust and I had chicken stuffed with ham and cheese and courgettes sautéed with garlic and bacon and sauages Friday, with onions but in fact it is pasta with a sage and butter sauce.

The market seemed fairly busy though we were there by 9 - but then I have just read that Borough Market has 4.7 million visitors a year so I shall have to stop being surprised. It's good for the Market - but I do wish they'd all wait to come after 10. Dream on.
Went to Ginger Pig and bought lamb mince kashmiri spice balls, pork mince and pork chops both in the freezer - not really in response to hard times, but it won't hurt to get a bit of practice in! - £17.50

Then to Booths for potatoes still there but fine to use, watercress fabulous with fish, aubergine meant for curry but still in the fridge and still okay, beans spiced Monday and then in lunches, mandarins lunches and dried porcini - £6.60

At Furness I bought a lovely piece of cod fillet Saturday special and fabulous- £5.10

At Wild Beef there was no Lizzie but she's on holidays which she richly deserves so I bought eggs and sausages freezer from Richard - £5.70

Bought 3 peppers roasted, peeled and dressed in basil oil as a perfect accompaniment for fish for a pound from the pile it high bloke

And a jar of brinjal pickle from the Indian stall - £3 - a bargain as it is fabulous

Fresh pasta from Gastronomica in the freezer most of the week but now to be dinner Friday as I've had a hankering - £5.40

Was thinking of smoked salmon but they weren't there - perhaps the seas were to rough to be crossing the Irish channel

Neals Yard for yoghurt, milk and bread - £6.60

Flour Power for cottage loaf and a brownie - £3

So a total of £53.90 - good!

I also bought onions, fresh noodles, coriander, lemons, coconut milk powder, bok choy, thai basil, butter, more milk, and chocolate biscuits

Apart from peelings I threw nothing away this week - the leftover bread I mushed with water and fed to my worms, which have settled in very well in their little farm. They eat almost exclusively from Borough too! Lucky worms.

This time last year we were mostly eating porridge! But only on weekend mornings. The rest of the time it was soup, particularly bean and barley, one of my most particularly favourite things.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ruby Chard and Mushroom Tagliatelle

Though we've had some lovely warm days recently autumn is definitely here. On the bus home last night the light wind was causing a flurry of leaves to fall like giant raindrops leaving golden splodges on Brixton Road and this morning at seven there was insufficient daylight. And it was drizzling. I guess the poor excuse we had for a summer this year is definitely over. Time to look forward to autumn.

It is a season of wonderful foods, more substantial than summers fripperies and often with wonderful colours to go with flavours that have developed over the last few months of warmth if not sunshine. At the market on Saturday Booths had great piles of pumpkins and squashes and apples and crinkly cabbages calling out 'eat me, eat me!' Metaphorically you understand. I bought some big flat field mushrooms with deep brown gills and fell in love with the flashness of the ruby chard - you don't have to be looking at it for long to know why it is called Beta Vulgaris. The stems positively glow jewel red offset with huge soft leaves the colour of a mossy pond. I did not resist.

So Tuesday's dinner had to be pasta, enriched with butter rather than cream, depth added to the flavour with a few dried porcini and their rehydrating bath. Perfect autumn food. The recipe is from a River Café recipe supplement from the Guardian a long time ago that I saved and found again.

Ruby Chard & Mushroom Tagliatelle

500g ruby (or other) chard
250g flat field mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
15g dried porcini
50g parmesan
120g unsalted butter
300g egg tagliatelle

Put a medium sized pan of salted water on to boil. Cut the stalks from the chard and slice into inch long pieces, roughly tear the leaves. Boil the stalks for five minutes then add the leaves and cook together for a few minutes till tender. Drain and cool, then chop roughly together.

Meanwhile, soak the dried porcini in 150ml hot water. Trim and finely slice the mushrooms. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Grate the Parmesan.

Drain the porcini - keeping the soaking liquid - and chop them roughly.

Heat a large pan of salted water to boiling. Then melt half the butter in a separate large thick bottomed pan and when it just starts to fizz add the fresh mushrooms and cook until lightly brown. Add the garlic, the porcini and 4 tablespoons of their soaking liquid. Season and cook together for a few minutes until the flavours combine and the liquid is reduced. Stir in the chard and the remaining butter.

Cook the tagliatelle in the boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, add to the chard and mushrooms, toss thoroughly and serve with the Parmesan.

What you end up with is a perfect autumn dish. Looks, smells, tastes - the lot.
Useless information department - in Australia chard is called spinach and spinach is called English spinach. I'm guessing if they have ruby chard they just call it Vulgar!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quick Chickpea Soup & (souper)Stardom

UKTV Food is - rather obviously - a satellite channel linked to an extensive website devoted to the joys of food. Lots of chefs and stories and recipes and a mix of old shows and newly commisoned programmes. Their flagship programme is Market Kitchen which goes out weekdays with an interesting mix of seasonal recipes, clever tricks and a starry array of chefs from all over, cooking and chatting with the regular hosts like Matthew Fort and Tom Parker-Bowles. There's a segment shot in Borough Market using some of their lovely produce to make great meals. For those who've yet to experience the delight that is Borough you can at least see it here in all it's glory. It's all shot in front of an audience at tables who get to sample the food as it is made - and be on the tv at the same time.

They are having a competition this month to find a new presenter - surely a gift to those of us who want to spread the joy of food. It simply involves doing a short clip - up to a minute - telling of your love of food and posting it on YouTube. Check out the full details here. The winner gets their very own Market Kitchen feature, filmed at Borough Market, and a cookery course and stay at Rick Stein's Seafood school with accommodation included. Got to be worth a shot!

One of the judges will be Rachel Allen who cooks dishes in her kitchen in Ireland that are broadcast on the show. Last week she made this quick soup with chickpeas and tinned tomatoes, flavoured with cumin. I liked the look of it, so made a version of it last night for an easy Sunday supper. She served it with chili pitta chips - since I topped mine with chilli and garlic oil, we had thick slices of light swiss rye on the side.

Quick Chickpea Soup

3 tbsp olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 1/2 tsp freshly ground toasted cumin - toast the seeds till fragrant then grind in a pestle
pinch sugar
400g tinned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
300ml vegetable or light chicken stock
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 lemon, juice only
2 tbsp parsley, leaves and stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tspn chilli flakes
2 tbspns olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the celery, onion and some salt and pepper. Turn down to a low heat, cover the pan with the lid and cook the vegetables until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin and cook for another minute, then pour in the tomatoes and all their juices along with the sugar. Add the chickpeas and the stock and simmer for 5 minutes.

Simmer for 10-15 minutes then, with a stick blender, process about a third of the soup to thicken it. Add the lemon juice. Check the seasoning to taste.

In a small pan heat the olive oil and add the parsley, garlic and chilli. Cook over a gentle heat till the garlic is translucent and all is fragrant.

Serve the soup in deep bowls and swirl the spiced oil across the top.

Scallops with Bacon and Cauliflower Purée

Last week I bought a cauliflower at Booths. I was making a vegetable pulau and it was intended for that. But only half of it. Come the end of the week the other half was still in the fridge and I didn't want to waste it. Though not expensive it still seems wrong to throw it away so I wanted to incorporate it into the weekend menu somewhere. Initially I thought of cauliflower cheese with Sunday roast but then I had a hankering for something a little more exotic, fritters possibly. Spiced.

Then I couldn't think what to have with spicy cauliflower fritters so that plan went by the board as soon as I thought of scallops. I love them with a passion, their sweet dense flesh is always a joy. The man shares my feelings for these creamy little discs fresh from the sea. The two things are a marriage made in heaven. It could perhaps be thought that spending £9.50 on scallops in order not to waste 50p worth of cauliflower was not a well considered plan but I would argue that it was one of my best plans of the month. It was an amazing dish - the purée, made with stock rather than cream, was a wonderfully delicate thing, matched perfectly by the perfectly cooked scallops. And the topping of finely shredded bacon cooked briefly with garlic and parsley rounded out the salty sweet flavours to make a dish that was simple and extraordinary.

Scallops with creamed cauliflower, bacon and garlic
8 medium-large scallops, removed from the shell and cleaned
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
60g streaky bacon cut into very thin strips
80g butter
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1tbsp chopped parsley

for the cauliflower purée
1 small head of cauliflower or half a medium head
Stock to cover - I used chicken but vegetable would work
A good knob of butter

First make the creamed cauliflower. Chop the cauliflower into small pieces and put them into a saucepan with the butter and just cover with stock. Season with salt and pepper, cover and bring to the boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally then remove the lid and cook on a high heat until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Blend until smooth with a stick blender then re-season. Leave on a very low heat.

Meanwhile gently cook the bacon in about 20g of the butter, add the garlic cloves now and cook for 2-3 minutes without colouring.

While the bacon cooks season the scallops on both sides and heat a pan, preferably non stick, with a little oil until almost smoking. Fry the scallops on a high heat for about a minute on each side.

Add the rest of the butter to the bacon/garlic mix and heat until foaming, then add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Put a generous slick of cauliflower onto two plates, top with 4 scallops on each and then spoon the bacon on top.


This comes from a recipe by Mark Hix published a few years ago in the Independent but accessible with the magic of the internet.

Friday, October 10, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

I shall see what the man fancies for Saturday night but I am thinking - fish and by wanting to use up half a cauliflower we had scallops on a purée - divine. Sunday I am out so probably a roast in the evening plans went awry so had lunch out and had chickpea soup for supper. Monday pasta perhaps so we had roast beef and veg and chickpea soup Tuesday pasta instead with mushrooms and ruby chard. Wednesday will be bean stew from the freezer I think the man was out so I had a bacon omelette after French, then Thursday noodles or stirfry fabulous dish of chicken with peppers and peanuts. Friday is too far away but now it's here, I still have cabbage, so cabbage and potato bake.

Borough Market was quietish in the sunshine Saturday morning - a real pleasure to wander about. At Ginger Pig I bought a piece of topside to roast for dinner Monday and lunches through the week and some unsmoked streaky bacon with scallops Saturday night - £21

A jar of peaches from Brindisa for the cupboard because I went to an evening of food pairing with Heston Blumenthal last week organised by the Sherry Institute of Spain that was extraordinary as I got to meet the great man and taste his food and there can be no greater excitement on a Monday night. One of his pairings was Amontillado with Pata Negra Ham, Peaches, Balsamic Vinegar, Rocket and Marcona Almonds - in fact a complete shopping list from Brindisa - the sherry when tasted with the peach its flavour was extended by the sherry, bringing out the fresh ripe notes. So I'm planning to sample some more sherries with the pairings from the other night and this is the beginning of that - £5.95

Then to Booths for veg - celery, leeks with roast beef, cabbage with potato bake, green peppers stirfry, mushrooms, rainbow chard for the beautiful colour and both for pasta, and more colour from the mandarins, sugarsnaps as well both for lunchboxes - £8.90

Over to Wild Beef for eggs omelette Wednesday, eggwhite in the stirfry and topping for cabbage and potato bake - £1.50 goes such a long way! - and to return a mass of eggboxes because I finally remembered to take them with me - £1.50

Tagliatelle half a pack for dinner half in the cupboard from Gastronomica - £2

Parma ham and buffalo mozzarella Saturday lunch from the Italian stall - £9.50

Coffee from Monmouth - £9
Scallops Saturday special! from Furness because I had half a cauliflower left from last weeks shop and wanted to use it as a purée - and what better accompaniment for a Saturday treat? - £9.50
Milk, cream and bread from Neals Yard - £9.40

More bread and a chocolate brownie for my sweetie from Flour Power - £3

So this week we spent £79.75

I also bought onions, butter and chocolate biscuits, some bread Wednesday to go with my omelette plus some new potatoes Friday.

This time last year we were mostly eating spicy parsnip soup - might need some soon and boiled ginger cake. I find it interesting looking back to what we had before - the seasonality of our eating comes through with different dishes using the same ingredients. It has a lovely rhythm.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Beef & Mushroom Lasagne

I love lasagne - it's easy to make, you can do it in advance, it smells divine as it cooks, and the only real limit to combinations is imagination. What's not to love? The only thing to keep to is using good ingredients. For the best quality pasta should be made using durum wheat as it's the only type of ground cereal that can hold on the tightness of pasta, in contrast to the common wheat ones that go soggy. The Italians follow a precise and measured method of development and production of pasta that involves drawing, rolling and subsequent drying of the dough under temperate conditions.

According to Real Italian Pasta when raw, good quality dry pasta must have the following characteristics:

• it must have a uniformly smooth appearance and texture;

• no spots or dark shades must be visible when light shines through it;

• it must have a clear and unmistakable amber yellow colour;

• it must be odourless;

• it must taste slightly sweet;

• when broken it must make a dry sound and the fracture must appear smooth and glassy with no air bubbles.

If it has all that it is worth seeking out. I bought some egg lasagne sheets from Gizani's deli in Exmouth Market to be sure of perfection. Though not from a real Italian recipe this was a great supper and made plenty for the next couple of days - so though it's a slow thing to make, the rewards are enormous. In fact, you could easily sate six hungry people.

Beef & Mushroom Lasagne

For the meat sauce

1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 fat cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
2 tbspns olive oil
100g fatty smoked bacon, cut into thinnish strips
500g coarse ground beef mince
400g flat field mushrooms, roughly chopped to pieces the size of a walnut
1 tbspn worcestershire sauce
1 tbspn tomato paste
100ml stock or water - don'tuse stock cubes, they're horrible
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic on a medium heat for about ten minutes till they are translucent then add the bacon and continue to cook, stirring occasionally for another ten minutes or so till everything is soft and fragrant. Increase the heat and then add the meat and continue cooking until it has lost its raw red colour. Add the black sauce, tomato paste, stock or water and the bay leaf then season generously. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to it's lowest, cover the pan with a lid and cook gently for half an hour. Then add the chopped mushrooms, stir into the sauce, cover again and cook for another hour. Check the seasoning and add if needed. Remove the bayleaf.

For the Tomato Sauce
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tins plum tomatoes in juice
2 tbspns olive oil
2 tbspns tomtato paste
1 bayleaf
2tbspns finely chopped fresh rosemary and thyme
Salt & pepper

In a large pan heat the olive oil then add the onions and garlic. Stir until soft and fragrant then add the tinned tomatoes, breaking them up if they are whole, as well as the tomato paste and the chopped herbs. Season well. Bring to a simmer and then cover and reduce the heat to low. Let it cook like this for an hour or so till you have a rich red sauce. Remove the bayleaf.

For the Cheese Sauce

1 clove garlic, crushed
75g butter
65g plain flour
fresh grated nutmeg
800ml milk
300g gruyere, grated
Salt and pepper

Heat a large pan and then melt the butter and add the crushed garlic. Cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes but don't let the garlic burn. Turn the heat very low then add the plain flour and stir to make a thick paste. Keep stirring till the only lumps are garlic bits and the mix has become a golden biscuit colour. This takes 7 or 8 minutes - if you stop too soon the flour stays raw and the final sauce will be horrible.

Still on a low heat start adding the milk and stirring it in. Incorporate the milk smoothly before adding the next bit and keep going till all the milk is used. By this point it should be about the consistency of single cream - add more milk if you need to. Raise the heat to medium and tip in all but a tablespoon of the grated cheese and stir till it melts into the sauce. It should now be about the consistency of double cream. Grate in a generous amount of nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Have a little taste to check the sauce tastes great.

To assemble
Sheets of dried lasagne that require no pre cooking

In a large baking pan spread the base with the beef and mushroom mix. Then cover with a single layer of pasta. Next spread the tomato sauce over the lasagne and add another layer of pasta. Finally top with the cheese sauce and sprinkle over the reserved grated cheese.

Bake in a moderate oven, gas4/220C for about 45 minutes till the top is crusted in places and the sauce is bubbling around the edges. Let it settle for a few minutes before you serve.


I cooked the meat and tomato sauces Monday night and then made the cheese sauce and the final lasagne Tuesday night which has two advantages - it lets the flavour develop and it makes dinner much earlier on a week night that doing it all in one hit.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rice & Bean Pulao

They say you learn something every day. Some day's it's even true. My most recent increase in knowledge comes courtesy of Alexx's blogsite. Idly surfing I checked a link she had for a dinner she'd made of a rice dish called pulao. One of it's positives was that it was good next day for lunch, definitely a quality I like. I had vaguely heard of it but was quite sure it was a south American rice dish - information I confidently imparted to the man when I was explaining what treats lay in store for the nights dinner.

The finished dish was indeed a delight, though possibly the cuisine of south America didn't immediately spring to mind. Wishing to share my discovery with the world I did a quick google to find out a little more about it. And discovered it is a very well known - by most people - Indian rice dish. Which made a little more sense. At Maa Inti Vanta I found an interesting comparison between pulao and biryani - an Indian rice dish I do know. She explains that in a biryani, the parboiled rice is layered twice or more between the spices and the meat, and they are all cooked together. In a pulao, the stock forms the base and the rice is cooked with the spices so that it absorbs all the flavor, whereas biryani is made by the draining method of cooking rice. The end result though is pulao a more lightly spiced dish, its strength definitely in its subtlety.

Here's the version I made last night - the only curry powder I had was Korean and it worked a treat. I think you could be pretty free and easy with the vegetables you include, so long as they are fairly fresh. Don't forget to finish it with a little lemon juice - it lifts the dish. I suspect it would be very good with yoghurt.

Rice & Bean Pulao
200g of basmati rice
500ml stock or water, I used chicken stock
400g tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion peeled and finely sliced
100g of frozen peas
2 courgettes diced
1/2 head of cauliflower cut into small florets
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoon of sunflower oil
2 cinnamon sticks broken in half
2 cloves, 2 green cardamom pods (both spices crushed)
2 teaspoons of curry powder - of whatever complexion
1 teaspoon of sea salt
fresh coriander leaves to sprinkle over the top

Leave the rice to soak in a bowl of cold water while you chop the vegetables. Heat a large saucepan on a moderate heat and add the sunflower oil. Once the oil has slightly heated add all the spices and stir briefly. Then add the sliced onions and sweat for 10 minutes till they are translucent and smell good. Add the peas, cauliflower florets and courgettes. Continue to cook gently for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
Drain the rice and add to the pan, along with the borlotti beans, salt and stock. Turn up the heat and bring the pulao to the boil. Then turn the heat down to low and cover with the pan with a lid. Leave to cook until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Once ready, check the seasoning - it may well need more salt - and add the lemon juice.
Serve in a suitable warm bowl with fresh coriander sprinkled over the top.

The final dish is a fabulous gold colour laced with green peas. A great lesson to learn - it looks good, smells great, tastes even better!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Curry Crackers

This is a quick and easy recipe for making little spiced biscuits that are very tasty on their own and also make a great scoop for dipping into things, mango chutney for starters or a cooled dahl - but anything vaguely spicy would definitely work.

I made them last weekend as a starter for dinner Saturday and wanted to include it here in case my mother is looking for something new to add to her nibbles repertoire. It is safe to say she is Queen of the Nibbles Platter, making her own labni, marinating feta, making all manner of dips and crispy things to be enjoyed with a drink before dinner. And every time a different selection.

Curry Crackers
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn ground coriander
1/2 tspn fennel seeds
75g ghee
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbspn minced ginger - grate it then chop it finely
1 tspn ground turmeric
1/2 tspn chilli powder
250g plain flour
1/2 tspn baking soda
1 tspn salt
125ml cold water

Melt the ghee in a small frypan and fry the garlic and ginger over a gentle heat until fragrant - about 2 minutes. Don't let them colour only soften. Add the spices and cook for 30 seconds then take the pan off the heat.

In a food processor blend the flour, baking soda, salt and spiced ghee until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Add the water and blend till the dough forms a ball. If you add the water in stages you'll see when it has amalgamated - the amount of cold water needed is not an exact science but rather depends on the flour. Once you have a good ball of dough put it into a plastic bag and rest it for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Line a baking tray with parchment or greaseproof.

Roll the dough into a long sausage and cut into 6 pieces. Roll out one piece on a lightly floured bench until it is about 3mm thick. Use a small cup or glass - or indeed biscuit cutter if you have some - to cut shapes out of the dough and arrange them on the baking tray.

Bake for 15 minutes till the crackers are crisp, golden and a bit puffed up. While the first batch cook, repeat the process with the second piece of dough to make more crackers. Cool the first batch on a wire rack while you cook the second batch.

At this point I had two dozen crackers which was enough for my needs so I have frozen the rest of the dough for another day when it will be even quicker to make these little treasures.

The original recipe for these came from Christine Manfield's Spice book, which is always a pleasure to use.

Friday, October 03, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

Thinking steaks for Saturday night - and inch thick rib eye was what we had with a crisp salad and some crunchy bread with a glass of red for a great dinner, Sunday don't know ham & eggs - blissfully good, a pulao Mondaywith leftovers for lunch with the ham, lasagne Tuesdaywith beef and mushrooms with enough to last till Thursday, omelette Wednesday, finish the lasagne Thursday, pasta Friday. Oh no - that would mean more pasta! We shall see. It will be the omelette we didn't have Wednesday with duck friton and smoked bacon, a crisp salad and fresh bread - perfect Friday fare.

Cold Saturday. Not as cold as Friday, just cold enough to make me sleep late. We arrived at Borough Market a little later than usual but it was fairly quiet and calm, pleasant to be shopping there.

At Ginger Pig I bought a couple of very very thick rib eye steaks Saturday special!, perfectly marbled with creamy fat and a sizeable piece of smoked gammon Sunday night and lunches all week, along with some smoked bacon oyster some in the lasagne the rest in the omelette - £37 - which means I could get a stamp on my loyalty card and one day I will receive a free sausage roll. Works for me - they are the most amazing sausage rolls.

Then to Booths for potatoes still there which means we had a whole week without potatoes a rare thing, cauliflower, zucchini for the pulao and half the cauliflower is still there but will be fine on the weekend, lettuce salads, mushrooms lasagne, mandarins, mangetout both for lunchboxes and shallots - £5.85

Cheese from Gastonomica - an aged pecorino for lasagne sauce and a rocchetta still there, for it's a while since we had one - £12.80

Eggs fried with ham Sunday and omelette Friday from Lizzie at Wild Beef and some rolled oats - winter is here when it's porridge for Sunday breakfast - £5

Mango chutney from Temptations, a lovely thing we've had before - £7.50

Pork pie from Mrs Elizabeth King's - now given protected geographical status - Yay! £5
A hot sausage roll from Ginger Pig until I have got enough stamps for a free one - £3

Bread, milk, marmalade and chilli jam at Neals Yard - £12
Bread and a brownie from Flour Power - only £1 as the man has now eaten sufficient paid for brownies to fill his loyalty card and qualify for a free one
And lastly, though not food, a gardenia because it was a very healthy looking specimen and I do love the scent - £4

A lot this week - £93.15 - more than I've spent for a long time

I have also bought tinned cannelini beans, kidney beans, flour, parsley, onions, tea and biscuits. And a sesame flute from Paul.

This time last year we were mostly eating Penne with Bacon & Beans and before that Wild Mushroom Risotto.