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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

dare to be different

Much Madness is divinest sense
To a discerning Eye -
Much Sense - the starkest Madness -
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail -
Assent - and you are sane
Demur - you're straightway dangerous -
And handled with a Chain -

by Emily Dickinson

Friday, April 25, 2008

Spiced apricots

Caroline poached apricots in a subtle spice mix for DD's birthday on St George's Day. Utterly delicious.

Take one packet of those luscious half-dried apricots and poach them in orange juice sweetened with a little honey, together with one star anise, one vanilla pod and a couple of cloves. (Follow the instructions on the packet for timings.) We ate them with a chocolate-y almond cake. Mmmm

The tulips are on my desk. Anyone who has ever been in my study will know that I had to clear a space in order to take the photograph. Incidentally, the orange lily-flowered tulip is Ballerina, which besides being a particularly cheering flame colour is also sweetly scented, unlike most florist's tulips.

After I put them in a vase I took them outside again, so that I could enjoy them in the afternoon sun:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Caramel-salt nuts

These are SO good ...

Put 275g of nuts, 200g sugar and 75ml water into a wide pan, apply heat until you've got sticky nuts (turn the heat down towards the end). Sprinkle salt on them when they're ready but before you've turned them out onto a lightly oiled baking sheet to cool.

This recipe comes from David Lebovitz, who gives more detailed instructions in case you're nervous of caramelising sugar. He suggests using smooth nuts such as almonds or peanuts. So I used hazelnuts, as they were all I had. And David's also got lots of suggestions for ways of using these nuts - other than just eating them as they are.

Thanks, David, I needed something quick to make for my friend DD who is giving us dinner this evening.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chicken nosh

In the first of the spring sunshine, it feels a little foolish to be posting a winter standby supper recipe, but last night was so cold that some comfort food was in order. Chicken nosh is hugely adaptable, so we never get tired of it.

I generally make it with the leftovers from a roast chicken; this time I bought chicken pieces specially. I use chicken stock if I have it for the sauce, otherwise skimmed milk. Chicken nosh can be eaten as a stew with baked potatoes, as a pie with pastry (olive oil pastry would be good) or a mashed potato topping, or strewn with breadcrumbs. My all-time favourite is anchovy breadcrumbs, the salt contrasting with the sweetness of a bechamel made with olive oil (beats butter bechamel hands down).

Chicken nosh

bacon pieces (optional)
mushrooms if you've got some
olive oil
plain flour
skimmed milk or chicken stock
thyme, lemon zest

You need to make a white sauce, using olive oil instead of butter, a little flour, and either skimmed milk or chicken stock. At the same time, chop and gently fry some onions (or, as I did last night, use some left over roasted onions). If you are using bacon, this can be added to the onions when they are soft. If you are using uncooked chicken, you need to cook this off; otherwise, pick the meat from your bird.

Combine all these ingredients, plus flavourings - thyme and lemon zest is delicious, but so, too, is nutmeg (especially if using prunes rather than mushrooms); I haven't experimented with hot spices, but they'd be good too.

If it's just a quick stew you're after, warm it through and serve with baked potatoes or rice, and lots of vegetables. Otherwise, put everything into a shallow ovenproof dish, and cover with your topping of choice. It needs half an hour in a hot oven, around 200C.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pasta con le sarde revisited

One of the most visited pages on this blog is my recipe for pasta con le sarde made with tinned sardines. Yesterday, I had the chance to buy fresh sardine fillets. I can now tell you that the tinned version is not only cheaper and quicker, it's also much much more delicious - softer and sweeter.

Pasta con le sarde is one of those lovely dishes you can make from spring to autumn, full of the omega-3 goodness of oily fish and the herby freshness of the three types of fennel used: bulb, seeds and wavy fronds. Actually, you can make it in winter too, only then there's only one hit of fennel, the seeds. It's a Sicilian dish, so it has that tasty agro-dolce thing with the sultanas and anchovies. Well worth a try, if you don't know it. It's my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Susan at The Well Seasoned Cook.

Fennel has a faint taste of aniseed. Thomas Jefferson was sent seeds by the American consul in Livorno in 1824; he didn't know the plant, but, once he harvested them at his garden at Montecello, Virginia, he was a convert: Fennel is beyond every other vegetable, delicious, perfectly white. No vegetable equals it in flavour.

This recipe is a simplified version of the one found in Tamasin's Kitchen Bible, which, in turn, derives from Anna del Conte.

Pasta con le sarde
for 4

a handful of sultanas
a handful of pinenuts
2 medium onions
olive oil
1 head of fennel
2 anchovies
4-6 sardine fillets, chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds

400g pasta

Soak the sultanas in a little hot water. Peel and finely slice the onion into rings. Put into a wide saucepan with plenty of olive oil and gently stew. Toast the pinenuts in a dry frying pan. Dice the fennel and blanch in water for one minute; save the cooking water. Add all these ingredients (but not the water) to the onions, and continue to cook for at least 15 minutes until everything is getting soft.

Put on a large pan of cold water. Add the fennel seeds and the anchovies to your sauce (no need to chop them, they'll cook down in no time). When the water comes to the boil, add the pasta. Then add the sardines to the sauce.

If at any point the sauce gets too dry, add a little of the blanching water.

Everything will be ready at the same time. Drain the pasta and gently stir in the sauce. Garnish with the chopped whispy bits from the fennel.

Related posts

Pasta con sarde
White pizza with fennel seeds
Braised fennel

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spring cleaning the larder

Guess what I'm doing today? And, just like Sandra, we're going to eat it all up, even if it's past its use-by date. Except for one thing - the box of microwave popcorn which Horatio bought while my back was turned. I'm going to incinerate that, with enormous pleasure. His excuse for buying it? He says that traditional popcorn mixed with real melted butter "doesn't taste buttery" ****?!!???!!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Softly spiced baked butternut

Veggie dinner last night - I like to do at least one a week. This softly spiced baked winter squash was the star of the show.

Spicy baked butternut squash

1 butternut or other winter squash
olive oil
onion, garlic, shallot
the zest and juice of an orange
6 dates (sultanas would work, too)
ground cinnamon

Slice one squash - I normally wouldn't peel it, but these are the last of the autumn bounty and their skin is getting a little tough six months after harvesting. Sprinkle with a little salt and some olive oil and bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes, until starting to be tender.

Finely chop a medium onion and some garlic, a shallot too, if you have one. Gently cook these in some olive oil until they're soft. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon, six chopped dates, a handful of pinenuts, the zest of an orange. Mix all this up and take off the heat.

Put the squash in a greased shallow baking dish, sprinkle with the onion mixture, and squeeze over the juice of the orange. You can do all this ahead. When you're ready, bake at 200C for 15-25 minutes (exact timings depend on whether the ingredients are cold or warm when you put the dish into the oven).

Chop equal quantities of parsley and mint. Sprinkle this onto the dish when it comes out of the oven.

Related posts

Stuffed butternut squash
Roast squash bites with pumpkin seed pesto
Pumpkin risotto

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

HotM: brunch - porridge

In this house, as you see, the most enthusiasm is reserved for a full English breakfast (although only the children eat sausages). We don't really do brunch, if that means a collision between breakfast and lunch - no matter how late we eat breakfast, they all always want some lunch. On the other hand, we do often have a leisurely weekend breakfast. No-one eats muffins here - and, anyway, over the years they've been amongst my worst culinary disasters.

Lucius and I often eat kippers, and another favourite is porridge. I've made this in a variety of ways over the years, and this is the nicest, although not instant. You need medium and/or coarse oatmeal, not the rolled oats that are easy to buy in a supermarket, nor pinhead oats, which are too coarse to cook in real time (overnight in an Aga is the usual method for pinhead oats, but I have never been a fan, they often taste overdone, reminiscent of school food). I have to go to the health food shop for oatmeal, which is about £1 for 500g.

The porridge you make with rolled oats is fine, it's just that this is better. Perfect for weekends, perfect for brunch, perhaps with a little blueberry compote for extra heart health.


for each person:

50g medium oatmeal (or a mixture of medium and coarse)
300ml water

Use a sturdy pan with a thick bottom. You can start by toasting the oatmeal gently for two or three minutes, I'm not sure if it really makes a difference, and it's by no means essential.

Add the water to the meal, heat until it comes to the boil, then turn right down to simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. I use a wooden spoon, which is what my grandmother in Scotland used, and I have never met a Scot who uses a spirtle, I think they are just for tourists.

I don't put salt in my porridge, it can be added to the bowl - my Scots grandfather, a farmer who grew oats in Fife, used to eat his porridge with salt and not much else. I use skimmed milk and a dollop of lovely brown muscovado sugar.

If there's any left over, you can fry it up like polenta, and eat it with fruit compote. That's what I had for breakfast this morning - reheated slices of porridge and a little stewed apple. My grandmother used to give her leftover porridge to the dogs - in fact, I rather think she made extra specially.

What do YOU do for a heart-healthy breakfast or brunch? The Heart of the Matter website is a resource I often consult, so I'd love it if you'd take part this month.

The usual rules: If you’ve participated before, you already know the basics. If you haven’t, check here, here and here for ideas on what “heart-healthy” means, and we hope that you’ll join us! Again, we ask that this please be a single event entry (please don’t use your post for other events – that way we can keep things centred on healthy heart awareness). Just send your entry to joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk (could you use the title HotM, so they don't get lost) by midnight Sunday 27 April , linking to my site, Joanna's Food (and to the HotM blog if you’d like) and I’ll post the round-up on the Monday or Tuesday on both sites.

Related posts

Kippers - without stinking out the house
Smoked haddock
More things for breakfast
Kedgeree (my very first blog post)
Frying pan bread - a quick fix for the disorganised
Baked pears with pinenuts

HotM: brunch

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Snakeshead fritillaries

The snakeshead fritillary is the county flower of Oxfordshire, and this is its moment. You'll find it in damp ground, particularly in the water meadows of Oxford - those lovely wild places in the busy city centre, where, apart from the occasional wail of a nearby siren, you can imagine yourself far from modern life.

A few years ago, I planted three snakeshead fritillaries here. Now there are many more, dotted about, none of them where I put the original three. We went out in the drizzle on Sunday evening to look for them - the children were just giving up on what was clearly a maternal fantasy, when I found one, right outside my study window, in amongst the flame orange Ballerina tulips.

These photographs were taken yesterday in the Wild Garden at Trinity College.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A visit to Hungerford

Yesterday, I took Alfred to Marlborough for cricket pre-season training. On the way home, I went for a walk by the Kennet & Avon canal at Hungerford ...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lucien Freud's fat muse

On the one hand, this painting by Lucien Freud is expected to fetch £18m when it goes to auction shortly; on the other hand, there has been widespread condemnation of the model. I think she's beautiful, happy in her skin. What do you think?

I was alerted to the sale by a thought-provoking post at Lulu's Bay. Full details at Times Online

PS just found this on writer Susan Hill's blog:

What would you rather people today did not do, other than obvious wickedness? Judge people`s characters by how much they weigh.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bread and butter pudding

There's a lot of leftover bread in this house this week ... most of two loaves of bread gets eaten at breakfast by ten oarsmen, which leaves a couple of slices. So, bread-and-butter pudding for dinner. Quick, easy, delicious - all the virtues.

This story is about the perils of following a recipe. I got out Tamasin Day-Lewis's Kitchen Bible. Very rich: 600ml of cream and full-fat milk with eight eggs. Eight! Diana Henry was more down-to-earth with two eggs to 600ml. I can't remember which of them thought that 300g of sultanas was a good plan for the 12-slices-of-bread + 600ml of custard. The sultanas needed soaking (in the leftover tea, ordinary strong Indian tea), so I measured 300g, then remembered I was doubling the recipe, added 300g more, thought it looked too much, glanced back at the recipe, and, reassured, got on with it.

Well, I could have made four b&b puds with that many sultanas! I put more than half of them in, but couldn't fit in any more. Fretting about this, I forgot to put any sugar in the custard (and only realised when I woke up this morning). But none of this imperfection seemed to matter: it was all gone in moments.

Bread and butter pudding
, for 6-8

Soak a handful or two of raisins - I used tea, but you can use alcohol. Butter stale bread (trim off crusts), and arrange it in a gratin dish. I used a mixture of white and wholemeal. Sprinkle the raisins over, and some finely grated lemon zest.

Mix two or three eggs with 600ml of milk and as much cream as you'd like. Add a little vanilla essence. Also some sugar to taste (!). Pour this mixture over the bread, and let it stand for a while (perhaps a quarter to half an hour). This takes care of last-minute panic when you're feeding a crowd.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 25 minutes, until the custard is set. Both the recipes used a bain marie (although they avoided the word, as it frightens people), but I have never bothered, without detriment. However, I did cover the puddings loosely with greaseproof paper so that the sultanas didn't burn.

Related posts

Home-made vanilla essence
A basic white loaf
Herb stuffing - another use for stale bread

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fiona's meme

Here's a meme that's doing the rounds - Fiona at Cottage Smallholder tagged me for it.

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Studying for my history finals at Oxford University, whilst juggling family life ... the children were 11, 9, 7 and 5 at that point.

What's on your to-do list today?

Make shepherd's pie for 15 (I've got a Cambridge college crew staying, training at Henley for next term's races).

Snacks I enjoy

The ones eaten standing up in front of the fridge ;) Also hummus and celery sticks

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Sort out the house. Stage small-scale opera in the garden. Carry on as ever.

5 places I've lived

Henley on Thames
Hong Kong

5 jobs

mucking out stables
picture researcher
mother (far and away the hardest)

5 interesting blogs to tag ... these are all relatively new to me

Gillian at Skybluepink
Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska
The Leftover Queen
Girl Interrupted Eating
Keiko at Nordljus (not new to me, but lovely, especially the recent post about Sarah Raven's garden, one of the most inspiring places I know)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Herb stuffing for roast chicken

With the price of wheat going up all round the world, we have to remember how to be thrifty cooks. Those little balls of stuffing you can buy on trays in supermarkets - well, they started out (before the days of supermarkets) as a way to use up the stale end of a loaf of bread, as well as to make the meat go further. Using up every last crumb feels particularly important when you made the bread as well.

These forcemeat balls are a staple of old-fashioned English cookery. They are very quick to make, and go into the oven for the last 20-30 minutes of roasting whatever meat you have.

I used home-made chive bread (my basic white loaf with a lot of chopped chives added in at the rate of one heaped tablespoon per 100g of flour). I also used four rashers of cold cooked streaky bacon left over from breakfast, but, although a little bacon or ham is a common ingredient in English forcemeat, these are also fine without meat of any sort.

Forcemeat balls with three herbs

2 thick slices of good bread, 100-120g
a handful of chopped parsley
a handful of chopped chives (unless you're using chive bread)
OR a spring onion
2-3 leaves of sage
a little bacon (optional)
1 beaten egg
and a little oil to help bind if necessary

Whizz the bread in a processor, then add the herbs, spring onion and bacon (if using). Tip into a bowl and mix in the egg. You may find that the mixture will not hold together, in which case add a little oil. Wet your hands and roll dollops of the mix into balls.

It's a good idea to make these a little ahead, so that they can rest in the fridge, which will make them less likely to fall apart. Put into the oven for the last 20 to 30 minutes of roasting your chicken, either in their own tin, or carefully arranged around the bird. You can baste them with the juices if you like. Or not.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Kalyn - a rare event these days.

Breakfast in the snow

Yesterday, we ate breakfast and lunch outside. Last night, as the sun was going down, there were fluffy pink clouds in the sky, and I thought we could have a huge open-air breakfast this morning when all the visiting teenagers finally got up.

No chance!

Lettice is grilling bacon; Lucius is poaching an egg. We need some ideas for a healthy brunch - please!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Rabbi Blue's meatballs

These meatballs are a family favourite - easy, comforting food which all of us (apart from Lucius) can cook. We eat them regularly, perhaps once a month - if we haven't had them for a while, one of the children is sure to ask for them.

I haven't consulted the recipe in years, and, now that I look at it, I see that I haven't been putting in lemon juice for a very long time, if ever. That will be an improvement. We generally use French mustard, either grainy or not, depending on what's in the cupboard. I sometimes use other types of jelly (blackcurrant, quince), or even lumpy jam if there's no alternative. Its a long time since I've used tomato juice, as I generally use a tin of chopped tomatoes, perhaps a little stock to make extra sauce when there are lots of meatballs.

It's a very forgiving recipe, it takes moments to put together ... I'm blogging it now so that I don't lose sight of its origins, because I'm about to give away the book from which it came - it's the only recipe I ever use from that book, and I need the shelf space. I'm going to give the recipe and preamble in its entirety, because - well, Rabbi Lionel Blue is like no other.

Self-pity meatballs

These meatballs were refugees from Sweden. They journeyed across the Atlantic to the States, and then journeyed back to Europe, so although this recipe has a Scandinavian basis, when it reached me it had acquired an American kick, which I toned down because of my British understatement. It is very easy and very versatile. It is good both for solo cooking, and for party cooking when all the tribes of Israel descend on me. When I am on my own for too long, I get lachrymose. These balls sauce me up, and I decide that life is worth living, and I even get down to prayer - my first for some time - and I just say "Thank you!"

I give here the quantities for one large portion. It is enough for one self-pitying rabbi or two normal people. Multiply the quantity according to the number of your guests and their emotions.

1/2lb mince
4 fl oz tomato juice
4 fl oz tomato ketchup (1/2 a small bottle)
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
1 dssp lemon juice
1/2 tsp made-up English mustard

Wet your hands, and roll the mince into balls, the size of small walnuts.

In a saucepan combine all the other ingredients except the lemon juice. Heat on the stove until it is just simmering.

Carefully put the balls in the simmering sauce, and cook very slowly over a low heat for a long time (40 minutes at least, but longer will be better).

Before serving add lemon juice to taste. This will moderate the sauce, which is very rich. You will not need any extra salt or pepper.

I like to eat the sauced balls with rye bread, especially the Jewish type, which is worth seeking out because it is flecked with caraway seeds, a taste I enjoy.

We always eat this with rice - it's the only way one or two of my children are prepared to eat rice (imagine refusing risotto!). I think next time I might try it with a little rye bread on the side.

Taken from Simply Divine, Recipes from the Cooking Canon and Rabbi Blue, by John Eley and Lionel Blue, BBC 1986

Oven temperature conversion chart

The complete bloggers' guide to oven temperatures around the world.

I cook in centigrade; Americans use fahrenheit; other English cooks use gas; anyone consulting an old cookery book will have come across terms which are apparently vague (such as moderate), but which are actually quite precise - and also very useful to anyone using a fire to cook.

I'm always having to look them up in a variety of places. So here they all are:

Fahrenheit Celsius Gas Mark Heat of Oven
225° 110° 1/4 Very cool
250 120 1/2 Very cool
275 140 1 Cool
300 150 2 Cool
325 160 3 Moderate
350 180 4 Moderate
375 190 5 Moderately hot
400 200 6 Moderately hot
425 220 7 Hot
450 230 8 Hot
475 240 9 Very hot

Heart of the Matter: brunch

This - as so often for me with Heart of the Matter - is an appeal for fresh ideas. Brunch ideas. Heart-healthy dishes that will appeal to a family that would much rather be eating bacon and eggs for breakfast.

I'm feeling a bit jaded all round, and I'm especially stuck for weekend breakfast: if it's porridge the young complain. If it's kippers, only the adults eat them. If it's too whacky, everyone asks why we don't have it for lunch. I'm often ridiculed for having eaten curry for breakfast every day when I was in Sri Lanka a few years ago.

The other day I put some puffed quinoa into the home-made muesli - not much - and Lucius stopped eating muesli. He said it tasted nasty; he also said it tasted of nothing. I said he couldn't have it both ways. After a few days of stand-off, I sieved the whole lot out, and he went straight back to eating muesli every day for breakfast.

As you see, they're a conservative bunch, so I need your help ... you've all been so generous with your recipes in the past, the Heart of the Matter website is a resource I often consult.

The usual rules: If you’ve participated before, you already know the basics. If you haven’t, check here, here and here for ideas on what “heart-healthy” means, and we hope that you’ll join us! Again, we ask that this please be a single event entry (please don’t use your post for other events – that way we can keep things centred on healthy heart awareness). Just send your entry to joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk (could you use the title HotM, so they don't get lost) by midnight Sunday 27 April , linking to my site, Joanna's Food (and to the HotM blog if you’d like) and I’ll post the round-up on the Monday or Tuesday on both sites.