JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Chilli jam

This is terrific chilli jam, better than any I've made before. It takes moments to prepare, and then not quite an hour and a half to simmer before bottling. This is enough for nearly three Bonne Maman jars.

Blend 400g whole tomatoes, four chillies (seeds and all), six cloves of garlic, two small knobs of ginger (don't bother to peel them), & 30 ml of Thai fish sauce (half a little bottle). Put this in a saucepan with 450g ordinary sugar, and 8 tbsp red wine vinegar. Bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, finely chop another 400g tomatoes. Add them to the pan, and gently simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. You have to judge for yourself when it's cooked, and it may well take longer than an hour to reach a set (it will set without trouble, because tomatoes are full of pectin).

I like this best of all with crab cakes, but it's also good stirred into pasta, in sandwiches, with cold meat.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A St Andrew's Day feast

Just back from St Andrew's Day at Eton, to collect Horatio. He spent the morning playing rackets against Old Etonians, beating them 3-0, and then rushing on to play in a football match against yet more Old Etonians, beating them 4-2. I managed to fit in a quick visit to the art school on the way from rackets court to soccer pitch, where there was some stunning work. Horatio's series of three showed Churchill + bulldog, first in collage, then in print, then abstrcted into a huge oil painting, in which, by some magical & probably unintended process, Churchill looked rather like Mussolini. There was also an exhibition of late 20th century St Ives painters, so a chance to commune with Terry Frost, Rachel Nicholson, Hepworth, and best of all Patrick Heron. No chance of affording even the lithographs!

On the way home, I suddenly realised I had made no plans whatsoever for lunch. So, when we got home, I put on a tomato sauce (one large onion, a tin of good Italian tomatoes, the chopped remains of last night's tomato salad, some olive oil and the end of a bottle of red wine). Then I put on some maccheroni, nice artisanal pasta of the sort you can buy in Waitrose. So far so ordinary. Especially dull for those of us who don't eat much cheese, and prefer to save the notional allowance for savouring a little piece at a time (no bigger than a matchbox, no more than twice a week). So I blitzed the end of a sourdough loaf, added a couple of anchovies from the jar I generally have in the fridge, fried that in some olive oil. When it was crunchy, a grated on a little lemon zest and added a few chopped parsley leaves. I felt almost sorry for Horatio, topping his pasta with boring old parmesan!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Spicy chicken with dried plums

Here's proof that "low fat" food isn't boring - this is a good supper dish by anyone's standards, with the advantage of being quick and easy. Spicy but not hot.

You'll need some chicken breasts, prunes, and a little stock.

Chop an onion and sweat it in some olive oil; add finely chopped garlic just as the onion is beginning to brown. After a moment, add half a teaspoon each of turmeric, coriander, ginger and cinnamon. Slice three or four chicken breasts, add these to the pan. When they have browned, add a couple of large squirts of tomato puree (or the contents of one of those tiny tins), and 300ml of liquid, which can be water, chicken stock, veg stock, whatever you have to hand. The chicken will neeed to cook for 15-20 minutes. Add 150-250g prunes to this. If they are the expensive, half-dried sort, add them towards the end of the cooking time, as they will only have to warm through; if they are the cheaper ones, then put them in with the chicken; if they're really hard, it would be a good idea to soak them first (probably in the cooking liquid).

We ate this last night with broad beans in white sauce, boiled Shetland Black potatoes (very floury, quite tasty), and a tomato salad.

Last night there was a heavy frost, the heaviest so far this autumn, and as heavy as any we had all through last winter. We woke this morning to a whitened world. The thermometer showed two degrees of frost, despite being in quite a sheltered spot. This is what my herb bed looked like:

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A little light reading for a cold dark winter day

The weather here has suddenly turned cold, we've had two or even three frosts this week, so I need to go out and deal with the blackened foliage of my dahlias. Not an inviting prospect. Instead, I've been reading essays by Elizabeth David, in Is there a Nutmeg in the House, and in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. Inspiring ...

I'm almost ashamed to say what it has inspired me to do today - there were strawberries at the market, so I am going to make Sir Walter Raleigh's recipe for "cordial water" which he regarded as medicine for cleansing the blood, whatever that means. It's a summery equivalent to sloe gin, with strawberries and vodka. The only thing that stops it being really embarrassing is that the strawberries were grown in Berkshire (the next county) rather than air-freighted half way across the world.

I'm going to soak 1.4kg of strawberries in a litre of vodka, probably for 3-4 days, and then add some sugar. ED says she regretted omitting sugar. Can't imagine how it will taste, but it will make a good Christmas drink, and anyway I forgot to pick sloes last month.

Every time I pick up a book of Elizabeth David's, I'm entranced. She writes so well, and has such interesting things to say about food, particularly its history. I nearly always end up cooking one or two dishes. All the same, I have one major reservation about her, which is that I can't help feeling that her strong emphasis on food from France and Italy was partly responsible for the collapse of interest in traditional British food in the 1950s and 60s. On the other hand, we are a trading nation with long-standing culinary influences from abroad (think curry/kedgeree rather than "nasty greasy foreign muck") , & it was a time when our population was diversifying, with all that that meant for our country's cookery. And although she wrote a wonderful book about British baking, that came later, and was never so popular as the earlier books covering Mediterranean foods. Still, we can't lay all the blame at her door, and I suppose we should be pleased at the revival of the best of British cookery which has taken place over the past few years.

The other thing I did today in an effort to keep myself indoors was to add a counter to my blog. It took about three minutes.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Stuffed pumpkin

This is adapted from the blue River Cafe book, but Ruth and Rose wouldn't approve, because I didn't use the right pumpkin, and I didn't cook the potatoes specially, they were just there, in the fridge, left over from another day.

Halve a butternut lengthwise. Crush some salt, peppercorns and a dried chilli, using a pestle and mortar (these words, apparently, put people off cooking, but I find using a pestle a mortar curiously satisfying, there's something elemental about all that crushing). Smear the spices on the pumpkin and drizzle with oil. Bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, either cook some new potatoes, or take them out of the fridge. Either way, they should be diced quite small, coated in olive oil and liberally strewn with chopped garlic and thyme. Put them in and on the pumpkin, and bake for a further half hour, until it's all crunchy and slightly blackened at the edges.

Lucius said, approvingly, that he couldn't taste the pumpkin because of all the garlic. I have now used up the entire pumpkin mountain, and will try to incorporate orange food into our diet using something else. Stand by for some carrot recipes!

Stuffed mushrooms

Shirley Conran, mystifyingly, said that life was too short to stuff a mushroom. It took a couple of moments, and they were delicious.

Cook one chopped onion in olive oil. Blitz 4-5 slices of good bread, then add some thyme, parsley, garlic, a tomato with the seeds removed (use a teaspoon), the stems of the mushrooms you are going to stuff, a tin of anchovies and its oil, and the cooked onions. Brown the mushrooms (I used four field mushrooms) on both sides, put them in a dish, cover with the stuffing, and bake in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes.

There's a bit of this mixture left over, and I am going to use it as a sort of rouille for the fish soup we are having for lunch. (I'm currently simmering a tomato sauce, and, when it's time to eat, I will add some sliced squid, a few prawns, and some scallops.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

Crab pasta

I love this, because it's delicious, because it's quick, and because it's a little extravagent without being indulgent. We had it for supper last night, following an avocado vinaigrette, which is Lucius's best starter.

Cook enough pasta for two or three people (one not particularly big dressed crab will stretch to pasta for three, and is not too much for two). Do not succumb to the temptation to use so-called fresh pasta from the supermarket - either used dried, which is both better and cheaper, or take time to make it yourself (a very rare but always enjoyable event in this house). Finely chop some spring onions and a red chilli pepper. Grate the zest of a lemon, then juice it. When the pasta is cooked, turn it in a little olive oil, add the lemon juice, the flesh of a dressed crab, and all the veg. Mix and serve.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pumpkin risotto

Yesterday I spent the day with Eleanor in London. We met at the Tate Britain, where the Turner prize exhibits are better than they have been for years. There's a wonderful & emotional video installation by Darren Almond based on a journey with the artist's grandmother back to Blackpool where she had spent her honeymoon. It is tender, beautiful and profound, time past and time present all in one room. There's also some sensational painting by Gillian Carnegie, including two completely black paintings of a wood, which, as you can see, don't reproduce very well. Then we moved on to look at the photographs of Roger Fenton, whose pictures of the Crimean war do not show battlefields but logistics, and whose British landscapes are as stunning as the best painting. We traipsed round a couple of the permanent galleries, and, on the way out, I noticed there was a small temporary exhibition of the montage work of John Heartfield, the German communist who consistently criticised the Nazis during the 20s and 30s, and who eventually fled to Britain. There were images I had never seen before (I'm a historian, and Heartfield's work comes up all the time when you're looking at interwar Germany). Powerful stuff.

We had lunch at The Ebury in Pimlico Road, which I remember from my 20s when I lived in Pimlico as a scruffy pub. Now it's been thoroughly made over into a chic restaurant, full of slightly terrifying women whose instinct is to boss rather than to nurture. The menu was good, although Eleanor laughed at some of its pretentiousness, especially the notion of crushed potatoes.
Whatever, the menu lived up to its promise, and I had a very good, smooth pumpkin risotto. Everyone laughed at me for photographing it - the waitress was sneering in an offhand kind of way: "I hope you enjoy eating it as much as looking at it." It's the kind of restaurant where they take the 12.5% service charge without worrying about whether or not they deserve it; I'm still old-fashioned enough to believe that a tip (or, more accurately, the amount of the tip) should be a matter of choice, depending on whether it's been earned.

So, pumpkin risotto for dinner, seeing as there were a couple of butternuts in the veg basket waiting to be eaten. I had to improvise, as all the recipes I read were for risotto with pumpkin chunks. They were also all flavoured with sage, and it was raining, so I didn't want to go out in the dark and wet to pick leaves. All squashes pick up spice flavours well, so I decided on cinnamon.

Gently stew one chopped onion in olive oil. Remove. Stew the diced flesh of one butternut until it's soft. Add a little of this to the onion; process the rest until it's smooth, adding liquid if necessary. Return the onion mix to the pan, add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and enough risotto rice for three or four people. Stir, then add some white wine. Boil off the alcohol. Cook the rice by adding small amounts of hot water from the kettle. When the rice is almost done, add the pumpkin puree. Serve with flakes of parmesan, pepper, and toasted pine nuts.

That's what I did, because it's what I had. It would have been improved by the use of stock, but I didn't have any in the fridge, and I no longer use stock cubes because even the best ones are full of things I don't really want to eat. Using water was fine, although it would have been better if I'd gone out into the rain and fetched a couple of bay leaves to liven it up. It would also have been nicer if I'd chopped some parsley into it at the end, and that's what I'll do next time. Despite the limitations, it was good and creamy, with a little bit of bite provided by the onion and squash mix. It would also be good, and much less trouble, without making the puree.