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

Sunday, October 30, 2005

14 in the house, so pumpkin, pork, lamb - but no oven!

Last week Johanna "the passionate cook" posted a recipe for roast squash bites with pumpkin seed pesto, and I thought it sounded good to eat. She published a photo of beautifully presented canapes of the sort I can never get right. So I simplified it, threw it on a plate, and three people asked for the recipe. With apologies and thanks to Johanna, this is what I did:

Pumpkin and pesto

Peel and chunk one butternut squash, put in a roasting dish, drizzle with oil and roast in a hot oven until cooked through. Meanwhile, dry roast 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, and put in the food processor. Add an equal quantity by volume (by eye) of finely grated parmesan, and 4 tablespoons of oil. Blitz.

When the pumpkin is done and slightly cooled, put it in a single layer on a plate, and arrange the pesto over it in little dollops so that each chunk has some pesto on it. Spear a few of them with cocktail sticks and hand round.

Johanna specifies pumpkin oil, which I couldn't get in my local Waitrose, so I used something called Cool Oil, made by The Groovy Food Company, which my local Waitrose does stock and which I bought in a fit of keenness last year, because it's made with flax oil, hemp oil, evening primrose oil, and pumpkin seed oil, so it's rich in Omega 3, 6, 9. The trouble is, it doesn't taste very nice, and my search is for food which is good for us, and particularly healthy heart food, and which - most importantly - tastes good. But it was good in this dish, and it doesn't stain - Johanna says that pure pumpkin seed oil stains yellow. My nicest jumper got stained last weekend with saffron which I can't wash out ... on the other hand, it was delicious!

My oven still isn't working, so everything has to be cooked on a small hob (two rings, one big, one small) - tricky when we are so many. On the other hand, a great opportunity to cook new things. I got out the Moro cookbook - although I've read it, I haven't followed many recipes from scratch. This lamb (simplified) is a great one-pot dinner full of lots of flavours. I'm going back to the amounts for six, although I tripled this last night, and almost all of it got eaten.

Slow-cooked lamb with artichokes and mint

Slow cook an onion in olive oil until it's soft. Add 1.5kg neck of lamb cut into chunks. Brown the meat. Then stir in a little flour to thicken the sauce. At the same time add some garlic (3-4 peeled cloves), and some thyme (if it's from the supermarket, then chop it; if it's tougher and from the garden, then put in a small branch which you can retrieve later). Also some bay leaves, if you have them. Add 200ml dry sherry, let it bubble and cook for a couple of minutes, then barely cover the meat with water. Simmer gently with the lid half off until the meat is tender. After 1-1 1/2 hrs, add small new potatoes. When these are almost cooked, add a couple of jars of drained artichoke hearts to warm through, and a bunch of chopped mint.

Porridge for breakfast. Then we all had to build up an appetite for lunch, so ... Lucius carried on planing wood for a new ceiling he is making for our dining room; Lettice (15) went to county hockey training; Horatio (17) and Alfred (13) played on the PS2 (although in fairness they played football after lunch); Catrin fed her lovely new baby Cecily (7 weeks); and the rest of us went to the farmers' market in town.

Meanwhile, simmering in my biggest saucepan were two joints of pork in milk. I'm not sure whether we were following the recipe in Moro or the very similar one in the blue River Cafe book. Whichever, it was great, although the sauce didn't caramelise in quite the way described. This is what we did:

Pork in milk

Menna took the skin and most of the fat off two roasting joints of pork. Meanwhile, I bashed up some salt, mixed colour peppercorns and chopped thyme. This we rubbed into the meat and tied it up again. I browned these in oil, then covered the meat with milk. Neither of the recipes specified what sort of milk we should use, so I used what I had, which was semi-skimmed. I now think full fat would have worked better. I lobbed in a stick of cinnamon, some bay leaves, and a little lemon zest. This we simmered for 1 1/2hrs. We served it with mustardy mash and a courgette salad.

Lettice said there should have been peas as well. Catrin said she had cooked a chicken using the same method from a Jamie Oliver recipe. Either way, it was delicious, and there was nothing left, even though in the end we were only 11 for lunch, not 14.

Then we had homemade membrillo made by Bruce and Menna from the quinces in their garden with manchengo, a dry Spanish cheese, and wonderful rosemary and potato bread from the farmers' market. No need for supper.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A bit of a rant

Eating healthily has involved us in trying to turn away from the food industry at least some of the time; part of this means being more self-reliant - more cooking, some growing. Not on an allotment scale (I'm never going to grow maincrop potatoes), but a few life-enhancing fruit and veg (the melon experiment was a huge success, also very easy), and lots of herbs. So this year has been a turning point in the vegetable garden here - & now I'm keen to grow lots more, even though the mice got the peas, the broad beans got blackfly and I forgot to plant the garlic. I've found a terrific resource, The Real Seed Catalogue, run by a couple called Ben and Kate from their small farm in Pembrokeshire. They grow most of the seeds they sell, and they have really unusual varieties: I'm going to try an early Ukranian melon called, irresistibly, Collective Farm Woman.

Ben and Kate are on a mission - they sell books by the 70s self-sufficiency guru John Seymour, and they give instructions for saving seed even though it can't be good for business. They're not keen on the food industry either; they concentrate their dislike on the big seed companies. This is what they say - it struck a huge chord here:

"... real farming is a project that has been ongoing for millenia, but now in the height of our tiny period of cheap oil, we think we know better and have turned it into just another industrial process. Your loaf of bread should represent stored sunlight and water, but 90% of its calories come from oil these days - for the ploughing, spraying, fertiliser, transport. When the oil runs out, who will have the real seeds that can grow without it? Seed-saving is easy. You will get better seed, better food, and help preserve 11,000 years of work for future generations!"

The trick will be to see if I can carry on feeling inspired by this attitude, rather than guilty if I don't live up to it. It didn't take much effort to sow the parsley, and every time I cut some (most days), I'm not using one of those one-trip plastic boxes supermarket herbs are packed in. So that's a gain (and the parsley tastes better). Tiny steps, one at a time, and, like a toddler, I expect to fall down quite a lot. It's the best I can do.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Daube provencale

Today we were 11 for lunch. My oven's not working, so no question of a Sunday roast. Stew. This recipe is one I've used off and on for years, it's very easy and is full of complex flavours. The amounts here serve 4-6, but it's the sort of recipe that doubles up pretty easily, so I often use it for a crowd.

1kg braising beef - topside, shin, etc cut into thick slices (you can cook this in one piece, although obviously then it takes a couple of hours to cook, rather than an hour or so).
275ml red wine
3 tbs olive oil
2 crushed cloves of garlic
a branch of thyme (or a tsp dried herbes de provence)
100g bacon
1 onion, chopped
225g chopped tomatoes
a strip of orange peel
some anchovy fillets

Mix the wine, oil, garlic and herbs in a large bowl. Add the beef and marinade for at least a couple of hours, and up to two days. Soften the onion and bacon together in a casserole, add the beef & marinade. If you are very keen (and I'm mostly not) you could brown the beef slices before adding them to the dish; I'm more likely to do this if I'm cooking the beef in one piece). Add the tomatoes, anchovy and orange peel. Bring to the boil, and simmer on a low heat for an hour or so. OR put in a low oven (160C).

This is delicious with mashed potato. Today I served it with small new potatoes smothered in parsley; braised leeks; courgette and lemon salad; peas. Not very provencale, but easy and good.

Gravadlax cucumber

Last night I tried another of Sarah Raven's recipes. I expect she makes it with home grown cucumbers, but I used it to make a bland commercial cucumber taste of something. The flavours are exactly the same as in the gravadlax salmon I bought in Waitrose last week. Lucius said it was delicious, and I agreed although I thought there was too much sugar. I'm posting it because I'd like to make it again.

Cucumber and dill salad for four

1 large cucumber
85 ml wine vinegar (Sarah specifies rice wine vinegar, but I don't keep that)
115g caster sugar
some dill

Heat the vinegar and sugar until all the grains have disappeared. Thinly slice the cucumber (I used the potato peeler as for the courgette salad below, which, although successful, was not as successful as with the courgette, because cucumber is inherently more watery, less firm). Chop the dill and mix with the cucumber. When the vinegar has cooled, pour it on the salad, and chill for at least an hour. I peppered it at this point. Next time, I'd add salt to make the finished dish more sweet and sour (I use very little salt in my cooking, but I am happy to use it where I think it will improve the end result).

Sarah says you can chill this overnight; I chilled it for two hours, and it was quite watery by then. Next time, I would put the sliced cucumber into a colander to drain it for half an hour or so.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Courgette salad

Until I started growing courgettes, I wasn't that keen to eat them. The ones you buy in the supermarket don't taste of much, and they have a lot of seeds. The ones you grow (and see my post about melons, below, they really grow themselves) don't have many seeds, and do have a lot of taste (only the children still won't eat them). Today, I spent a lot of the day looking forward to supper, because I wanted to eat:

Delicious courgette and lemon salad

Use one courgette per person, and half a lemon per two courgettes.

Slice courgettes lengthwise using a potato peeler. This is a piece of equipment which has a place in my kitchen only because my husband and children will not use a knife to peel potatoes. I use a knife, as I'm not keen on gadgets. But I discovered today that the easiest way to slice courgettes thinly is with a potato peeler. It's quite wasteful, but I put the bits on the compost heap, and, anyway, there are a lot of courgettes.

Make a dressing with lemon juice and zest, olive oil and a little honey or sugar to sweeten. Salt and pepper, obviously. Add some toasted pine nuts (not too many, otherwise they'll end up in the bin, because the courgettes are the thing here). Also chopped parsley.

This recipe comes, slightly adapted, from Sarah Raven in last Sunday's Observer food supplement. I'm going to add a link to Sarah's website, because she taught me to garden. I went to a couple of her courses; very expensive, like her seeds and other stuff from her catalogue, but well worth it. In the case of her courses, she has given me the lasting gift of enthusiasm for the garden and gardening, plus the feeling that everything is possible - a hugely important gift. In the case of her seed etc catalogue, she has such a good eye that everything in the catalogue is worth buying.

I'd just like to say here that this is the first year I've ever grown parsley. We have a huge glut of it, so it goes on all sorts of things. I often go out into the garden with a torch to pick it. Sometimes I don't bother with the torch, and just go in the dark. You can smell the parsley. It has a strong smell, and it is juicy. It is nothing like the parsley you buy wrapped in plastic. It is delicious. It is worth growing. It is cheaper to grow it. I would now grow it in a pot on a windowsill if that was the only place I could grow it. And if I couldn't germinate it (this is the first year I've managed), then I'd plant up some of the plants you can buy all year round in the supermarket. And, yes, I'm talking about ordinary curly parsley, not the fashionable flat leafed stuff.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Melons from the garden

Last year, I grew - without any real effort on my part - a mountain of different squashes. They looked wonderful, I thought they were delicious, but the rest of the family quickly got bored of eating them. So this year, I thought I'd try to grow melons as well. I stuck a few seeds in some compost and put the pots on my study windowsill, and after a week or two I planted them out (probably April and May). I watered them a couple of times and then left them to it - it's a sunny bed, and we have heavy clay soil which retains moisture in that part of the garden, so things have to take their chances. I read an article about growing melons, describing horrendous amounts of work building a frame, pinching them out and tying them in. I ignored it. The melons rampaged over the bed, trailing in and out of the squashes, and over the lawn, an untidy but pretty promise of good things to come.

On Sunday, for lunch, we ate the first of them, as they are only just ripening. What's more, we ate them in the garden, even though it was the first day of October.

They were delicious, sweet, and contrasted wonderfully with the Parma ham. I'm definitely growing them again next year; I'm going to use the same method, only this time, I'm going to grow more, and I might put some in the greenhouse, which usually only houses tomatoes in the summer (although something tells me they'll be more trouble in a greenhouse, and I don't have much experience of growing things under cover). I'm sure that I would have got more melons if I'd done all the things suggested in the article, but about 25 from three plants isn't bad, especially for about 10 minutes' effort.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Saffron mash

Dagmar sent me saffron from the back of her kitchen cupboard, and I've had a very merry week reading cookery books to decide what to cook with it. I associate saffron above all with Cornwall, with the smell of the bakery in Market Jew Street in Penzance, and the beautiful golden cakes you can buy there. When we were staying at Prussia Cove, my friend Susan, who is a wonderful cook, once made us a delicious saffron-scented fish stew after an early-morning trip to the fishmonger in Newlyn. Elizabeth David's book on yeast cookery gives a recipe for a Cornish saffron bread - no good for us, because it's enriched with lots of butter, just like a brioche. The next obvious place to look is in Claudia Roden, because saffron is such a feature of Middle Eastern cookery: delicious-sounding rice recipes, which I will try another time, but I'm the only member of my family who truly likes rice. My elder daughter Eleanor, who is a drama student, was visiting, and her favourite food is mashed potato, so I decided to cook Simon Hopkinson's saffron mash, from his book Roast Chicken and Other Stories, which has recently been voted the best cookbook ever (astonishing - to him as well - because although it's good, you wonder how the voters forgot about E David, J Grigson, C Roden, etc etc etc). I hadn't made it before, and I thought it might make me feel more enthusiastic about the book (it worked). We didn't quite finish it, and the next morning, the fridge was delicious with the scent of saffron, so that I am now determined to remember to use saffron more often in my cooking.

Simon Hopkinson's saffron mash

900g floury potatoes, peeled
1 tsp saffron threads
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
200 ml milk (SH specifies creamy; I, of course, used skimmed)
200ml olive oil

Boil the potatoes. Meanwhile infuse the saffron and garlic in the warmed milk. Drain and mash the potatoes. Reheat the infusion and add the olive oil. Add the saffron to the potatoes and mix well (he suggests using an electric mixer, but I just carried on with the potato masher). Stand in a warm place for half an hour to let the saffron flavour develop.

PS just before writing this, we had homemade pizza for lunch, topped with a little tomato sauce, some anchovies, and a generous cutting of chopped parsley and chives added as the pizza came out of the oven. As I was eating it, I thought next time I might add some raisins and capers soaked in an infusion of warm water and saffron, a sort of homage to Venice and the spice route rolled into one! I also wondered about adding a little saffron into the pizza dough, but I can't help feeling that there may be a reason all the saffron / yeast recipes also include lashings of butter ...