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

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Olive oil pastry

This pastry is fabulous, with a strong scent of olives - not in any way second best to butter pastry. It rolls out thin thin thin, and makes lovely pleated folds. Quicker than butter pastry, too.

I used it to make a rustic potato pie in a sort of Dick Whittington swag bag. The filling wasn't a huge hit, so I'm going to work on it before posting it. But the pastry ... well, here it is, another master recipe for cholesterol-watchers: it's free from saturated fat, although you couldn't truthfully describe it as low fat.

Olive oil pastry

150g OO plain flour
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
up to 125 ml iced water

Use a stand mixer for this, if possible. Mix the flour, salt and olive oil. With the engine running, gradually add the water (I used about 100ml), until you have a ball of dough. Beat it for a couple of minutes until you have a silky ball. Put in the fridge. I used clingfilm, as instructed, but would prefer not to, so next time I'm going to put it in a storage box. This needs to rest for at least an hour.

The dough effortlessly rolls out very thin, and is easy to work. Brush with a little olive oil before cooking (190/30 minutes for my pie).

This classic Middle Eastern recipe was inspired by the cookery of Rose Prince in today's Sunday Telegraph.

Related posts

Butterless pastry - and a fruit tart
Shaken hot water pastry
Shaken hot water pastry 2

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A rant about air-freighted food

There's been a backlash in the British press, and indeed in one or two blogs I read, about sourcing food locally. Some people are taking excessive comfort from the news that, for example, air-freighted beans use less fossil fuels than those grown under glass in Britain in winter. They are using this type of information as an excuse not to think and not to act.

If you source food locally (even fairly locally), you are probably no longer dependent on a supermarket for fresh food, even if you still use one (as I do). If you source food locally, you are almost certainly eating seasonally. You are almost certainly opting out of agri-business foodstuffs fed on highly polluting nitro-chemicals. You have almost certainly worked out that, whilst the production of Kenyan beans as a cash crop for spoilt Westerners may provide jobs for a few, it is also using more than its fair share of water, a resource which is so scarce in some places (but, generally speaking, not in the West) that many predict it will be the cause of war.

And all that's before we get on to the subject of airfreight itself. Don't listen to people who say it's hypocritical to stop buying airfreighted produce whilst still flying to holiday destinations ... babysteps. Small changes in behaviour by many many people are hugely powerful. You've got to start somewhere, and deciding that you will no longer eat food with jetlag is a bit of a no-brainer. Even if you don't manage it every single time.

Of course it's complicated. But both the world and individual humans were healthier before agri-business got going on a truly global scale. And we should all remember that the most inefficient part of the food delivery system is the bit where we get into our cars and drive to the shops.

Related links

The Fife Diet's response to the same drivel in The Observer

Monday, March 24, 2008

Crocodile bread - a disaster

When I saw Tanna's post about making crocodile bread, I decided to bake some too. So I began the three-day process, thinking that I could buy the equipment I lacked after I got going. I forgot about all the preparations I'd have to make for our annual Easter invasion (14 on Saturday night, 16 for Sunday lunch, down to eight last night, and now back to normal).

So I made the first starter - mixed a bit of yeast and water, left it covered. Two minutes. Next day, mixed the second starter, added it to the first. Read day three instructions, realised there was no bowl big enough to take the rising final dough. Went to Henley to buy a large bowl. Nothing big enough. Went home and carried on sorting out Easter prep.

Day four dawned (Good Friday). MUST sort out bowl problem. Decide, while in Henley, to go to Reading, as Lettice would like a little pre-test driving practice. Telephone home to ask Horatio to look up shop times. Fine, fine, it's open til 9. Arrive at 5.35, shop firmly shut. Gggrrrr. Morrisons, the supermarket opposite, has a large bucket made of food-standard plastic, which usefully also has volume markings.

Finally mix up dough - 20 minutes' beating in Kenwood. Leave to rise, should be ready to bake at about 9.30-10pm. Re-read instructions. Realise for first time that the recipe calls for a baking stone. Shops all shut. Hot metal tray will have to do. Serve dinner for 12. Collapse into bed. Remember unbaked dough as dropping off. Too tired to get up.

Day five. Easter Sunday. The dough now looks too disgusting to bake - it's risen and fallen, and has a slightly brownish edge to it.

Easter Monday. Tip dough onto compost.

Does anyone know where I can buy a baking stone in the UK? Then I'll try again. The dough is really beautiful, lovely stretchy sheets and strings of gluten. Fascinating, unlike any dough I've ever made before. It seems a shame not to have managed to bake and eat it. Next time.

Related links

Karen's crocodile bread
Breadchick's crocodile

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Planting roses for our pergola

After a huge Easter lunch we planted the roses which will climb over Lucius's wonderful pergola. Lucius and I went to buy them on Friday - we took two rose reference books, plus Stephen Lacey's Scented Garden, and went out to a pub. Over lunch we each drew up a list of scented climbing roses we liked, and found that there was plenty of overlap between the two. Then we went to Henry Street roses, where we made a third list of what they had (virtually everything on lists one and two). Over coffee, we turned these three scraps of paper into a shopping list, and this is what we bought:

Three David Austen roses, not very tall, but good do-ers: Tess of the D'Urbervilles (crimson), James Galway (pale pink), The Pilgrim (pale yellow) (2). One climbing Iceberg, the only unscented rose, bought because it will flower until Christmas, and because it is one of my father's favourites (and he planted it). Gloire de Dijon (buff, we've got one already here, it's lovely); Mme Isaac Pereire (deep pink); Zepherine Drouhin (cerise); Danse du feu (a bright orange-red semi-double); The New Dawn (pale pink), Mme Alfred Carriere pinkish white; and Guinee, the black rose, with deep velvety petals, which I can see from my desk.

Later, I'm going back to Henry Street to buy standard roses to go beneath the arches. And next week I'm going to take cuttings from my Munstead lavender to underplant - probably not the best time, but, in my experience, plants want to grow, so it's worth a try, and if they don't take, I'll go out and buy some plants - but my stock is very strongly scented, and that's important to me.

I'm also going to buy Albertine, a major casualty of our list-making, mainly because I was afraid she'd take over, and Schoolgirl, a coppery-apricot rose Lucius was particularly keen to have, but which I'm going to plant where he will be able to see it from his desk.

It's snowing now, so I'll take photographs of the pergola tomorrow .... SO exciting, knowing that these lovely roses are in the ground, stretching their roots and settling in.

Easter roast lamb with ginger rub

This is the piece of meat that is about to come out of my oven ... a 4.25k boned saddle of lamb, enough for 16 - and, I hope, for some leftovers tonight and tomorrow.

It has been pierced with slivers of garlic and little twigs of rosemary, then rubbed with a mixture of grainy mustard, soy sauce, olive oil and ground ginger. We then consulted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat for cooking times: 40 minutes at 230C, then 15 minutes per 500g, then 15 minutes' rest. Actually, it's resting for longer, because otherwise the roast potatoes won't crisp.

With it: roasted onions, kale, cauliflower with anchovy breadcrumbs, carrots, Pugliese broad beans, roast potatoes and parsley mashed potatoes. Also fabulous gravy - the roasted bones, a mirepoix under the meat, water from the vegetables, some rather good Rioja leftover from dinner last night, a little balsamic vinegar. Mmm

Related posts

Roast potatoes: a question
The roast potato taste test
Quick crushed roast potatoes
Simplifying a roast dinner
Very easy lamb with olive paste

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jeremy Clarkson drives the world's smallest car

There are some avid fans of Top Gear in this house, and I have to admit that, despite being utterly uninterested in cars, I quite like watching it too. This is my all-time favourite moment .... especially the bit when the little blue car drives past the blissfully unaware newsreaders ... or the bit when he's in the lift ... or ... well, see for yourself. Very funny; but nothing to do with food, I'm afraid.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Foolproof and easy fruit cake

Years ago, long before I was married, I decided to make a Simnel cake for Easter. I spent ages looking for the recipe, which I never found. I can't remember now whether or not I made the cake, but I clearly remember the frustrating search. I was too idiotic to realise that Simnel cake can be any fruit cake recipe you want - it's all in the decoration, the 11 balls of marzipan signifying the 11 true disciples, a Scripture lesson of a cake, the betrayal of Judas plain for all to see.

This particular fruit cake was the first recipe my mother-in-law ever gave me, the first or second time I met her. It's in my ancient manuscript cookery book as Lady C's easy fruit cake.

It's well named: no beating the butter and sugar, wondering if you've got enough air into the mixture; no fear of sunken fruit. You just lob the fruit, sugar and butter into a saucepan, heat it up with some water, add flour, eggs and spice - and you're done. I'm giving it as I wrote it down, the instructions and ingredient list in one.

Oh, I'm afraid it's in a curious mixture of imperial and British teacups, but this is a forgiving recipe, and where it says cup, feel free to use a slightly smaller US cookery cup measure. If you're nervous, let me know, and I'll translate it into metric.

Another thing - this is a quick and easy, make-it-at-the-last-minute sort of fruit cake - delicious, but not one to make ahead or keep until your granddaughter's christening. Good enough to dress up for a party, easy enough to make for cricket teas.

Boiled fruit cake

I use a 9" round tin for this; otherwise I double it and put it into three large loaf tins (it freezes well).

6 oz Flora
1 cup of sugar
1 lb dried fruit
1 cup water

spice (2 tsp mixed spice is what I generally use, unless I forget)

Cool (I never have, but then it needs less time in the oven)

Beat in (in this order):
1 cup self-raising flour
1 egg
1 cup self-raising flour
1 egg

Bake at 150C / 300F for 2 hours. Start testing after an hour if you didn't cool the mixture.

Over the years, I've made this in many many different combinations. I like to make it plain with sultanas. This time, it's a superfood health mix of cranberries, blueberries, blackberries and Goji berries. It's in the oven now, and tomorrow I'll decorate it with the pistachio marzipan I made a couple of days ago.

Related posts

Extra-fruity golden cake

Links to other blogs

Sunshine fruit cake
David Lebovitz's Chocolate cherry fruitcake
A more elaborate Simnel cake

An Easter feast, Sicily 1942

I am reading David Gilmour's excellent biography of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the last of one of the great Sicilian families, who wrote The Leopard, one of the great masterpieces of 20th century literature, the favourite novel of so many.

Here's an astonishing extract, describing the way these noblemen ate during the war:

In addition to the conversation and the walks in the countryside, one of the main pleasures of Capo d'Orlando was the food. On Easter Sunday 1942 Giuseppe described to Licy a typical dinner of lasagne, vol-au-vent with lobster, cutlets in breadcrumbs with potatoes, peas and ham, 'an admirable tart from a recipe of Escoffier' (puff pastry, cream and candied cherries) - and 'all in their usual quantities!' The manner to which the Piccolos were able to insulate themselves from the horrors of the Second World War is remarkable. Throughout the summer of 1942, while massive armies confronted each other in Russia and Africa, there was no shortage of food at Capo d'Orlando: on 9 June Giuseppe reported 'tender and tasty beefsteaks two inches thick', exquisite cakes, a slice of tuna fish 'literally as large as a car tyre'. On another day Giovanna announced that they were having a light and mainly cold lunch as it was summer, and afterward Giuseppe listed for Licy's benefit the contents of this 'light' meal: 'real fettuccine' with butter and parmesan cheese, an enormous fish with various sauces, a pate de lapin made 'according to the rules of the old game pates: liver puree, black truffles, pistachios and consomme jelly: a very successful product of Giovanna's art'; and finally merignues with real chocolate ice cream.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Unblocking the sink

Here's a useful recipe: a way to unblock the sink without buying expensive products, using stuff you've probably already got in your kitchen.

The sinks in my kitchen usually block in the holidays, when there's lots of extra cooking going on here (generally when we've got 20 for lunch). It's no good blaming the young for putting fats down the drain, it's just as likely to be the coffee grounds I send down once or twice a day (I know, I know, they should go on the compost), or, more likely, the unbeatable combination of the two. Whatever, this is a perennial problem.

This old-fashioned solution is cheap, fun, and, amazingly, it works - although if your outlet is really blocked (and one of mine was), you may have to do it more than once.

To unblock a sink

Bicarbonate of soda (a huge box costs 99p in Tesco)
Vinegar (I used some past-its-use-by that was lurking in a cupboard)

Put three or four tablespoons of bicarb into the sink. Add equal quantities of cheap vinegar and watch them foam. After ten minutes, pour a kettle full of very hot water down the drain. Repeat if necessary.

Worked a treat yesterday.

Related links

Honeycomb - the same process, but edible

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pistachio marzipan

Hannah, that extraordinary baker, gave me the idea for pistachio marzipan this morning, and it's been nagging away at me all day. I've just made a batch (five minutes, including photography), and it's wonderful - a lovely speckled green, outstandingly better than any marzipan you can buy (but, then, that's also true of the usual almond marzipan).

I'm going to use it to make a traditional Easter treat, Simnel cake - a fruit cake plainly decorated with a marzipan covering and 11 balls of marzipan to symbolise the 11 true disciples. I'll use my mother-in-law's foolproof boiled fruit cake recipe, which was the first she ever gave me, something she made often. I'll post the recipe in the next couple of days, when I make it ... you don't need to make this cake in advance, it's quick and easy, and the Simnel decoration is a cinch.

I just hope that my sister-in-law's Labrador doesn't spot the cake before we all get a chance to eat it - that's what happened the last time I made a Simnel cake two years ago. Somehow, we managed to keep the awful truth from her, and ate hot cross buns instead. But last year, we all forgot that she didn't know .... and she was mortified, both that her dog had eaten most of the cake, and that we'd kept the truth from her.

Pistachio marzipan

250g shelled pistachios
250g icing sugar
the white of one medium egg

In a food processor, grind the pistachios until smooth. Add the icing sugar and egg white. Mix until it forms a clump.

This keeps well in the fridge, but should be brought back to room temperature before rolling out to cover the cake.

I'm entering this - rather late, so I hope Ilva will forgive me - for this month's Heart of the Matter, party food for Easter - and to celebrate HotM's first birthday ... so many wonderful recipes and ideas for heart-healthy food.

PS I had a query a couple of days ago from an American reader about British terms for sugar. Another helpful reader mentioned that US icing sugar contains cornstarch ... here in the UK, Tate and Lyle icing sugar is pure, apart from a little anti-caking agent which doesn't appear to be cornstarch.

Related posts

Extra fruity golden cake

Links from other blogs

Hannah's Easter tree cookies with marzipan
Simnel cake photograph at The Fresh Loaf
Simnel cake recipe at Apple and Spice

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pizza bianca with rosemary

Horatio and I had pizza for lunch.... although they weren't remotely similar. His had tomato sauce, mozzarella, mortadella, some chicken, great chunks of raw onion - you get the picture. Mine was a variation on the pizza bianca I've been making pretty regularly for the last few weeks - only this time, instead of fennel seeds, I used finely chopped rosemary ... really really delicious with the strong taste of anchovy and the sweetness of the sultanas (I left out the capers I normally use for this pizza).

Definitely one to make again, whatever Horatio says - and he was very vocal in his criticism ;)

Related links

White pizza with fennel seeds

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Quick roasted pepper pasta

Yesterday's lunch was the direct result of a blog event, Taste and Create. You're paired with another blog, you cook something from that blog. My pair is Bombay Foodie. Horatio thought he was going to get something spicy for his lunch. But no: Simran does a lot of baking (which I hardly ever do these days), and is using lots of soft fruit, which I can't here at this time of year, so despite lots of yummy things on this fairly new blog, in the end my choice was limited (but that's down to me, not Simran).

And so I made quick roasted pepper pasta - even quicker than Simran, because, as this is a summer dish, I didn't have any fresh peppers in the house. Simran posts useful information about peeling fresh peppers; I used roasted peppers in oil bought last year in Waitrose. And tinned tomatoes. And some leftover roasted onions. Quick and easy, an early taste of summer. And more interesting than the sum of its parts.

Incidentally, Simran made the Mount Athos chickpea patties I've been banging on about - here's her version.

Quick roasted pepper pasta
for 3

Half a jar of roasted peppers in oil
Half a tin of tomatoes
one or two onions
plenty of chopped parsley, or other herbs

Put the water on for the pasta. Meanwhile, sweat the sliced onions slowly in a little oil (unless you've got some leftover roasted sliced onions - I always make more than we need, because it saves time later). When the water is boiling, add the pasta; by this time, the onions will be soft, perhaps a little golden, add two or three tomatoes from the tin (or home-roasted, if you have such a thing - see below), but no juice. Then add peppers. Warm through.

Drain the pasta, leaving a little water to amalgamate everything, then coat with the sauce. Add plenty of chopped herbs.

You could serve this with grated parmesan, and that's what H ate. I sprinkled it with some of the anchovy breadcrumbs leftover from the cauliflower gratin we ate for dinner earlier this week. It's a new twist on an old idea from European peasant cookery - it's thrifty, it's heart-healthy. And it's delicious with this quick sauce.

Thanks Simran.

Related links

Roasting tomatoes
Mount Athos diet / chickpea patties
Mount Athos chickpea patties, an update
Chickpea mash
Nohutlu pilav
Mount Athos artichoke and potato

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi day - shaken hot water pastry

It's Pi day today ... March 14th = 3.14 = well, my computer won't make the Greek alphabet, so you'll just have to imagine the last part of that equation. All the same, food bloggers with a tendency to be geeky are celebrating by making pies. It was Alanna's idea.

We don't go in for many pies here, too much butter = high cholesterol. I'm not making a pie today because we only have those on very special occasions, two or perhaps three times a year. But, as it's Pi day, I'm giving the recipe for the wonderful, magical, delicious and low-fat traditional French recipe for shaken hot water pastry. Quick and easy, particularly for those of us who struggle to make light-as-a-feather pastry.

Shaken hot-water pastry

225g flour
1 tbsp caster sugar (leave it out if you're making something savoury)
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
4 tbsp mild salad oil
1/2 beaten egg
3 tbsp hot water

Put all the ingredients into a lidded plastic box and shake it for at least a minute. When you take off the lid, you will find a lumpy mixture; form it into a ball with your hands, and roll it out on a floured surface. The original recipe says this is enough for a 24cm tin, but I have made this a number of times, and find that it is rather too much for a 24cm tin, better in the next size up, because this pastry is better when it is very thin. You can use this straight away, no need to rest it.

Related links

Butterless pastry - and a fruit tart
Shaken hot water pastry

Another cauliflower gratin

I've been trying to have at least one completely vegetarian day a week here. This is easier when Horatio is away at uni, and very hard when he's at home - a 19-year-old late-growing carnivore is apt to make a fuss if there's no meat. For a whole day.

I managed yesterday.

The eat-less-meat idea has several sources: there seems to be some real proof that less meat more veg and fruit is a healthier diet; it's cheaper; it's more environmentally-friendly (meat production is notoriously heavy on agricultural resources); there are lots of good vegetarian dishes to cook and eat.

Eating less meat and dairy produce has implicit in the changes to our diet since my husband had a heart attack two and a half years ago. If you are eating more vegetables, more beans, more fruit, then clearly there's going to be less meat, less cheese, less eggs. There are some basic ideas in a post I wrote two years ago when we began to get serious about our post-heart-attack diet. (Although it's fair to say we don't stick rigidly to it ... see my 80:20 post.)

All the same, it's only this year that I've started made a conscious effort to cut out meat altogether, if only for one day a week - and you may well think that is pretty feeble. I'd happily cut meat out altogether, but I have to tread gently in a house full of carnivores ... and, so far, they aren't complaining.

This cauliflower gratin is not for vegetarians, however, because of the anchovies. They are there to give that savoury something that we used to get from cheese. But anchovies are better in a heart-healthy diet than a cheese sauce on cauliflower that constitutes the what-on-earth-shall-I-give-them-for-dinner type of cooking that is the daily grind for most family cooks. That's if you can persuade your young to eat cauliflower at all.

We ate this with baked potatoes and roasted onions, but I sometimes make it as a side dish, in which case you can cook it ahead (let it come to room temperature before putting it in the oven, otherwise you'll crack your dish).

Cauliflower gratin

One head of cauliflower
White sauce

a tin of anchovies
lemon zest

Break the cauliflower into pieces and cook covered in a minimum of water. Drain. Meanwhile make white sauce - I use olive oil and skimmed milk, which makes a wonderfully sweet scented sauce, infinitely more delicious than one made with butter. Put the cauliflower into an ovenproof dish - you want it to be a tight squeeze. Pour the sauce all over it.

Blitz a couple of slices of stale bread (this doesn't work well with supermarket slimy sliced). Add anchovies - just try a couple if you think you don't like them, I'm such an addict that I use a whole tin - and the parsley. Blitz again. Finely grate the zest of half a lemon into the mixture, which will be sticky with oil (and if it isn't, add some). Sprinkle over the dish, and bake in a hot oven, 200C for 20 minutes.

Related links

Cauliflower gratin
One veggie day a week will save the earth

Great big veg challenge on cauliflower
The Guardian "Meat-free March" links

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mount Athos artichokes with potatoes

These are FABULOUS ... really delicious, especially the leftovers straight out of the fridge for breakfast. I'm particularly pleased, because I have lots of jars of artichoke hearts, bought unthinkingly and with the optimistic idea that they will come in handy for an hors d'oeuvre - but when do I ever serve that sort of dish?

This is another recipe from The Guardian's recent little booklet of recipes from the monks of Mount Athos, apparently the longest-lived people on earth (or was it the healthiest?), although in one of my previous posts on this subject someone who has been to Mount Athos left a comment saying that they'd never had such good food in any of the monasteries they had visited ;)

Obviously I've revised the original recipe, because artichokes are not in season here at the moment ... whether this makes the recipe more or less healthy I have no idea, but it makes it fairly quick. I'll post what I did, and then give the original recipe (I've tried hard to find a link to these recipes on the Guardian/Observer website, without success).

Mount Athos artichokes with potatoes

for 3 or 4

one jar of artichoke hearts
5-6 medium potatoes
2-3 medium onions
olive oil
lemon juice

Peel and slice the onions into rings, and saute gently in a little oil in a pan big enough to take all the ingredients. You want them to be soft but not brown, and this will take 20-30 minutes. Boil the potatoes until they are nearly cooked; drain them and, when they are cool enough to handle, slice them thickly and add to the onions. Drain the oil from the artichokes, and add them to the pan with some water. Cook gently for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until everything is hot through and much of the water has evaporated. Stir in the juice of a lemon, a good grinding of pepper, and lots of chopped parsley.

The original version
(which serves eight) uses 10 fresh artichoke hearts which you prepare yourself, dropping them into a large bowl of water acidulated with the juice of two lemons. You then add 500g of sliced potatoes to the bowl. Meanwhile, you fry 10 chopped onions in some oil. When they're soft, add the artichokes and potatoes with just enough water to cover, and simmer for half an hour. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, add salt, pepper, oregano and dill. Once the liquid is mostly absorbed/evaporated, stir in lemon juice and parsley.

This version will be very useful when my artichoke plants start rampaging so that we can't keep up with them ... I prefer to cook them when they are tiny tiny, before they've developed a choke, so that you can eat them whole.

Related links

Mount Athos diet / chickpea patties
Chickpea patties from Mount Athos
Chickpea patties, an update
Chickpea mash
Nohutlu pilav
A weblog about Mount Athos

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Make your steak go further

I've blogged this way of cooking steak before ... it's delicious, it's easy, it's good for a party. And it's also a really good way to make a bit of expensive meat go further - one steak cut into ribbons will do for two or even three people. It's got those lemony-thyme flavours I love so much.

There were just the two of us for supper last night, the last time for a while, as full term at Oxford ended yesterday so Horatio will be home later today, and Easter is upon us. So this was a little treat, with cauliflower gratin.

Related links

Fillet of beef
Steak with lemon and thyme
Cauliflower gratin

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What kind of tea are you?

Can't resist a quiz. This one's sillier than most - but ...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Prawn paste .. instead of potted shrimps

Spent the day at the Oxford and Cambridge varsity hockey matches, as Lettice's team was playing the warm-up game. It was the last game for the team, half of them leave school at the end of next term. They won, and Lettice scored a great goal.

Vegetable soup

It was snowing at breakfast, so I made soup for our picnic - an onion, softened with a couple of chopped carrots, some mushroom, then a huge squirt of tomato passata, a little water, and half a tin of baked beans. I left it to simmer for half an hour, then poured it into a couple of small wide-mouthed flasks, and it was just what was wanted at 1pm, with a few soldiers of onion bread to dip.

On the way home, I asked Lucius what he'd like for dinner, as we had to stop at a shop. Potted shrimps. When he says that, these days he doesn't mean the tiny little Morecombe Bay shrimps held together with their own weight in butter. He means this really really delicious light and easy recipe for prawn paste. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Prawn paste

Blitz 250g cooked prawns, with the juice of a lemon (I often put in the grated zest, too). When it's smooth, slowly add olive oil - four two six tablespoons. Serve with toast. There are other ideas for flavouring this at my original prawn paste post.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Fat in chicken

"The problems of overweight, inactive chickens are being transferred to overweight, inactive humans."

This is a letter published this morning in The Independent, from two academics at London Metropolitan University, Professor M A Crawford of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, and Professor J T Winkler of the Nutrition Polic Unit. It makes depressing reading:

For decades, nutritionists have been advising people to avoid fatty meats, and eat more chicken because it was lean. So it was. But chickens reared in modern intensive conditions, with energy-dense feeds, are no longer a lean choice.

For the past 38 years, we have been measuring the fat content of British supermarket chickens in our laborator. In our latest study of 52 chickens from various supermarkets, we found that there were about three times the calories coming from fat as from protein. And organic chickens were just as fat as battery birds.

Consumers, and many nutritionists too, still think chicken is a protein-rich product. The reform of the chicken industry must focus not just on how they are reared, but how they are fed; on their welfare certainly, but also on their nutrional value. The problems of overweight, inactive chickens are being transferred to overweight, inactive humans.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Scallop and chorizo salad

If we were having an 80s or 90s moment, this could be a warm salad, but now, in the 21st century, I served this hot hot hot straight from the pan. Quick, easy (as so often with expensive ingredients), the perfect supper after returning from the cinema (The Bank Job, very good, based on real life, joining up a couple of half-remembered incidents from the early 70s, involving a London bank vault robbery, a princess, a Soho sleaze merchant and Malcolm X).

Scallop and chorizo salad

Oil, lemon zest/juice

Slice the chorizo and fry quickly in a non-stick pan. When the oil has run, add oil and lemon juice, zest too if you like, and arrange the salad on plates. Add the scallops and chorizo. Mmm

Related links

Baked scallops