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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Lettice's mushroom sauce for pasta

Lettice made lunch yesterday, a delicious new pasta sauce adapted from Antonio Carluccio's Italian Feast, which she bought with her Christmas money a couple of years ago. It's the first time she's used it - but then, on Christmas Eve, Lucius finally let off the rocket he was given by Eleanor for Christmas 2005 (and, yes, it was worth the wait - it made a satisfyingly loud whoosh and went very high, and it is said to have taken an aerial photograph, but this has not yet been processed). This sauce is thickened with ground almonds, rather than cream or yoghurt.

Soak 10g dried mushrooms (porcini for choice) in 150ml water. After a quarter of an hour, squeeze them dry, and keep the liquid.

Fry a small chopped onion in a little olive oil until it is soft, but not browned. Add 300g sliced mushrooms (wild if possible, otherwise as interesting a mixture as you can buy). Fry for a couple of minutes, then stir in the soaking liquid, 6 tablespoons of milk, 25g ground almonds and a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley.

Add the sauce to pasta. AC's suggestion is open ravioli, using home-made pasta; we plan to do this one day soon, because making pasta is such fun, but in the meantime, we used this to dress bought pasta - those curly tubes, I think. Alfred refused to eat it. All the more for the rest of us.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Mulled wine for a Happy Christmas!

We had a party last night, for friends, neighbours, and relations. Twelve families, children of all ages, from five to 20-something, a few grandparents, parents getting away from last-minute chores. Lovely sound of happy chatter, the youngest children offering round things to eat - sausages, crisps, dips (I made a taramasalata, but it turned out too oniony for my taste), tiny baked potatoes, shavings of parmesan and of salami. And the whole house smelled of Christmas - spices from the mulled wine.

For each 75 cl bottle of wine (I used a merlot I bought from the Wine Society), add 75ml of sugar, 1 tsp of cloves, 1 cinammon stick broken into two or three pieces, the juice of one lemon and one orange (or, when it runs out, and you have to make more in a hurry, the juice of a couple of clementines). Stir until the sugar dissolves, then heat gently. In an ideal world, you should strain this into a jug - but we didn't have time.

Happy days!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Christmassy pilaf

We ate this with roast chicken the other night, and it was essence of Christmas - easy celebratory food with a hint of the exotic which is just right on a winter's night. And I got there by accident: normally, for this sort of dish I would use individual spices, probably cinnamon and clove, but I wanted to finish up what was left over from baking Christmas cakes last week, and the result was a much greater depth of flavour. The ingredients list says: cinnamon, coriander seed, caraway, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. No wonder.

Perfect to go with cold turkey on Boxing Day - five minute's effort, then 20 minutes to do something else before it's time to eat.

Chop and fry a large onion until golden in a little olive oil. Use a saucepan with lid. Add 100g pistachio nuts, & 100g of dried berries. I used a bought mixture of cranberries, blueberries and wild cherry, but any of those would do, or raisins if that's what was in the cupboard. Then add a couple of teaspoons of mixed spice. Stir all this round for a moment, add 500g basmati rice, and then add 750ml stock, bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes without lifting the lid.

When it's done, the rice will be at the bottom, everything else at the top. Mix it together and, if you are decanting it into a serving dish, scrape up the crunchy bits at the bottom and mix those in too.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Amazingly, I made marzipan yesterday. Not something I've ever done before. Quick, easy, and much much nicer than the stuff in the packet. It's extraordinary how we have let the supermarkets make us think they are improving our lives, when the smallest effort to cook from scratch proves the opposite.

You need 250g of ground almonds, 250g of icing sugar, and one medium egg. You mix them together in a large bowl. That's it.

My children all say that they don't like marzipan. I gave them a little piece of the freshly-made home-made version, and they all said it tasted of almonds, in the tone of voice that suggested that this was a revelation. And they liked it.

I've got a packet I bought last year and didn't use. This is what it contains: sugar, almonds (25%), glucose syrup, colour lutein. I've got no idea what colour lutein is (except that I know enough gardening latin to work out that it is probably yellow), and I wouldn't want to use it in my kitchen. What a lot of sugar - and the fact that there's so much makes me wonder about the quality of the almonds they have used. The use-by date is June 2007 - I think mine will be eaten up by the middle of next week.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A really good squash risotto

Finally, a pumpkin risotto to please Lucius, who doesn't like squash. Just as well, because I grew more pumpkins than ever this year, AND the veg box turns up one or two most weeks, so there's a bit of a pumpkin mountain in this house. If you don't much like the texture of pumpkin, which I think is the problem for many people, you can mash it into the rice. Lovely winter comfort food.

Making it is very simple, the usual risotto drill, using a lot of red wine, and adding baked pumpkin at the end.

Peel and chunk a pumpkin - mine was a lovely pale green one from the veg box. Roast in a hot oven for half an hour or so, until they begin to brown at the edges.

Gently fry some chopped onion in olive oil. Just as they are about to brown, add a little garlic. Add risotto rice, stir for a few moments, then bubble up a glass of red wine - put about twice what you'd normally use. Slowly add stock (I used a very rich pheasant stock flavoured with cloves, which almost certainly contributed to the success). When it's almost done, add the pumpkin, and some finely chopped rosemary (sage would be a good alternative here). You'll almost certainly need to add a little more stock, because this risotto is better for being pretty liquid. Stir in a little finely grated parmesan.

I planned to serve it with a little pesto-y mess made with the roasted pumpkin seeds, but they were too tough to eat, so we ate it unadorned. Next time.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Spicy squid stew

In yesterday's Times, there was a recipe by Lindsay Bareham for squid stew, in which she said that you could buy frozen squid in 1kg boxes in Waitrose. I've tried to do this before, egged on by Nigella, without success. So I thought I'd try again. No luck, but they did have some squid on the deli counter. I didn't use the Times recipe, except as the inspiration. This is what I did.

Chop a couple of onions and a stick of celery, and soften in olive oil. Add some garlic. At this point I crumbled in a dried chilli, which gave the finished dish a strong but not overpowering heat; Lucius and Horatio would have preferred it without, and that would be good too. Add half a glass of red wine and bubble up, then add a tin of tomatoes and some chunks of potato (I used a peeled floury potato, which I had to be careful not to overcook; waxy new potatoes would be better, but that's for next summer). Simmer for 10-15 minutes to make a rich stew.

Meanwhile, cut up a chorizo sausage into wedges, and fry them in a little olive oil. Pour the sausage and the oil into the stew.

Roughly cut 500g squid, leaving the tentacles intact, and add them to the mix. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until they are cooked.

Chop some herbs and strew over the finished dish. Serve with bread (the slow but simple white loaf would be ideal).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mushroom daube

This started when I consulted the blue River Cafe book because there were a lot of mushrooms in my veg box this week.

Fry a medium box of fresh sliced mushrooms in olive oil. Meanwhile soak a couple of handfuls of dried mushrooms in very hot water (you want to end up with less rehydrated mushrooms, so that they don't overwhelm the more delicate flavours of the fresh ones). When the fresh mushrooms are brown, put them in a shallow dish. Drain and reserve the water from the rehydrated mushrooms, and fry in a little more olive oil with some crushed garlic. When the garlic begins to brown, add the delicious mushroom water, and braise until most of the liquid has evaporated.

So far so River Cafe. It tasted so-so, so I added a little Marsala and boiled that down too. Much better.

Back to the recipe: stir the two mushrooms together, and add chopped herbs before serving.

Delicious, quick, and easy.

Slow but simple bread

This fabulous white loaf is a revelation - a beautiful ball of bread dusted with semolina, and with a light airy open texture that costs pounds in the supermarket. All for pennies, a couple of minute's work, no kneading - and eaten so fast that there was no time to take a photograph.

It came from a food blog I discovered this week, via the New York Times website. You have to sign in to the website, which is a bit of a bore, but once you get to the right page you'll find a little film of Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery explaining his method. The problem for UK cooks is that it's all in cup measures, so I've translated it into metric.

Put 360g of ordinary flour into a large bowl. I used my all-purpose flour, which is lovely soft Italian type "00" from Waitrose - the exact opposite of the strong flour you are "supposed" to use for breadmaking. Add 1/4 tsp of instant yeast and 1 1/4 tsp salt. Mix with 300ml warm water. It will be a shaggy, sticky mess. Cover the bowl (I used a plate) and leave in a warm place for at least 12 hours. Jim Lahey says 18-20 hours is best; I left mine for about 36hrs.

By this time the dough will look bubbled. Strew a little flour on a work surface and turn the dough out. Now fold it on itself a couple of times - this is a much gentler action than kneading. Cover with the upturned bowl and leave for 15 minutes.

Get a clean teacloth and strew it with a little polenta or semolina. Shape the dough into a ball, put it on one half of the cloth, and cover it with the other half. Leave this to rise for two hours.

Half an hour before it's fully risen, put a lidded casserole dish in a very hot oven - 230C if your oven will do it. The casserole can be metal, ceramic or glass; I used a small Le Creuset pan. You don't need to grease it, the bread won't stick. When it's really hot, and the dough is risen, take the pan out of the oven and turn the dough into it (don't worry too much what it looks like at this point), replace the lid and bake for half an hour. Then take off the lid and bake for 5-10 minutes more.

There are two reasons for the success of this slightly startling recipe - the first is that time replaces the need to knead; the second is that covering the dough in a hot pan is as close to a commercial steam oven as you can get in an ordinary domestic kitchen.

Timing is easy - mix the dough in the afternoon or evening, and bake in the morning.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Beef and prune stew

Last weekend, we had all of Lucius's colleagues and their families to lunch. 18 of us. Two tables, one for adults, one for children, presided over by Lettice, who was the only one of our four at home. Lucius said we should have stew, and this is what I made, slightly adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis's Good Tempered Food. Next time I'd leave out the prunes, as the children didn't like them, and I thought they distracted from the rich tastes created by so many spices.

The amounts given here are from the original recipe, which she says does four. I multiplied by four, and there was tons left over (v useful in the freezer, we've already eaten some with another set of friends).

350-400g soft prunes, soaked in orange juice for a few hours
1kg chuck beef, cubed
4 medium onions

1 tsp each of:
coriander seeds
cumin seeds
dried ginger

2 pieces of orange peel
2 bay leaves
stock or water

Slice the onions and soften in olive oil in a heavy casserole pan. Chop a little celery and some garlic, and cook with the onions for a minute or two. Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour. Add the meat (I do not bother to brown it, but if this is something you always do, then go for it). Dry fry the seeds and bash them in a mortar with the cinnamon and ginger (TDL is a purist, and does all four, but I am not, and it still tasted good). Chuck in all the spices, not forgetting the cayenne (you can put less of this, but, even if you don't like hot food, do put some in, because it really does add a depth of flavour). Add the drained prunes, orange peel and bay, and just cover with stock or water. Bring to the boil, and simmer for about an hour and a half.

This is better made the day before, so that the flavours can settle, and so that you can remove any fat that has risen to the surface and solidified. Serve with some chopped coriander or parsley, and harissa, which you can buy in the supermarket. TDL gives a recipe for it, and I will try it one day, but not when there are 18 people coming to lunch!

I served this with mashed potato, delicious canneloni beans (this season's - I bought them in France at half term, and they are so fresh they don't need soaking before cooking) which I strewed with herbs from the garden (sage, thyme, some tarregon which was particularly good), kale, and frozen peas, which were by special request of Lettice.

Some vegetable dishes

Stuffed celeriac

I made this on Saturday evening, to go with roast pheasant, and it was delicious. The inspiration was from an article in Saturday's Guardian by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but I didn't follow his instructions, because his version uses cream. Mine, using low-fat creme fraiche, is a definite improvement (sorry Hugh!), not just because there are fewer calories and less fat, but also because creme fraiche gives the finished dish a sharp flavour - tastier than the bland sweetness of cream.

Peel and slice one medium-sized celeriac - mine was about four inches in diameter, weighed 450kg (sorry about the metric/imperial muddle here!), and had been sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks. The thinner the slices, the quicker this will cook, so it's worth taking trouble. It's easier if you cut the celeriac in half, so that the slices are D-shaped. Arrange in overlapping slices in a greased gratin dish.

Chop finely two cloves of garlic, one red chilli (fresh or dried, whichever you have to hand), 3-4 anchovy fillets, and the leaves of a large sprig of rosemary. Mix all this with 300ml of low-fat creme fraiche, and pour over the celeriac. Drizzle with a little oil, and put in a hot oven, 190C, for about 45 minutes.

Stuffed mushrooms

Ideally, you will have used anchovy fillets from a jar for the celeriac. I had to open a tin for this, so there were some left over. Not wanting to throw them away, or to have them making a greasy mess in the fridge, I used them to make a stuffing for mushrooms, which we ate for supper on Sunday evening. This is how I did it:

Finely chop one very small onion, and the stalks of four large mushrooms. Gently stew in a frying pan with 5-6 anchovy fillets and their oil (I'd use the whole tin if I was opening one). After a few minutes, add a little chopped garlic and cook for a minute. Add enough brown breadcrumbs to make a stiffish mixture. Mix in some chopped herbs - I think I used a little parsley, thyme, and some sage. Divide this mixture between the four mushrooms (which should be in an ovenproof dish or tin), pressing down well. Cover with a little white sauce, drizzle liberally with oil, and bake in a hot oven for half an hour, when the mushrooms should be cooked through and the stuffing heated through and brown on top. If not, put them back in the oven for a few more minutes.

This sounds a bit of a fiddle, and would be if you had to do it all at once. I always make "too much" white sauce, because it keeps well in the fridge, and is useful for this sort of dish, or to put on leftover vegetables. I also keep "fresh" brown breadcrumbs in the fridge, because they have myriad uses, because they keep well, and because I can't bear to throw away bread, particularly if I made it in the first place.

Parsnip crisps

This may not be what you were expecting to see in a kitchen dedicated to lower-fat, low-cholesterol cooking. I have come to see that the main thing to avoid is processed food, and making these crisps confirmed that in an unexpected way. They were fun to make, but it was time-consuming (about half an hour). If you only ever ate crisps you had made yourself, you couldn't possibly eat more of them than was good for you. I think home-made crisps may be an occasional treat here from now on - I enjoyed making them, while I chatted to my 14-year-old son Alfred, who was fascinated by the process. It was the sort of undemanding cooking that makes you feel like a cordon bleu chef. And they had so much taste that there was no need for salt. They provided a very good "crunch" as a side dish with our pheasant.

You need one large parsnip, a potato peeler, some vegetable oil, and a small frying pan. Cut thin ribbons from the parsnip, and fry them for a minute or two on each side in half a centimetre of shimmering hot oil. It is important that you fry them in a single layer (this is why it is time-consuming), and that you heat the oil up again between batches. Drain them on kitchen paper, and, when they are cool, store them in an airtight box.

Quick roast parsnip soup

There was a little parsnip leftover, horribly mis-shaped. I cut it into very small pieces and put it in a hot oven for a few minutes. When it was cooked, I mixed in an equal quantity of "leftover" roasted onions and pureed it with a little stock (although water would have done just as well). Ten minutes from start to finish,with two one-minute bursts of activity). Just enough for Lucius, who came in late for lunch after playing a tennis match.

Purple sprouting broccoli

This weekend we ate the first purple sprouting broccoli of the season, plain, because it was such a treat. But next time I may well chop in a little fresh chilli, or a little chilli jam, or fry some breadcrumbs with garlic and anchovy to strew over them. I love the seasonality of purple sprouting, the king of winter vegetables, and I look forward to it in just the same way as I look forward to the first asparagus in May.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Roasted parsnip soup

This is a quick, cheap and delicious soup, full of flavour (particularly if you use homemade stock, although you don't have to).

Peel and slice a couple of onions, put in a roasting tin and drizzle with a little oil. Roast in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Cut a couple of parsnips into chunks, put in a roasting tin with a little oil and roast for 20 minutes. You are aiming to end up with similar amounts of the two veg.

When they are done, whizz them in the food processor with some stock - I used the pheasant stock I made last week with the carcasses of a brace of pheasant (£5 from the butcher), some onion, carrots and peppercorns.

Wonderfully warming on a rainy, thundery day like today.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Roast parsnips with mustard seed

My veg box had lots of parsnips this week ... this was a particularly delicious way to eat them:

Peel and cut 4-6 parsnips into even-sized wedges. Mix together 2tbsp olive oil, 2tbsp runny honey, and 1tbsp mustard seeds. Add the parsnips, making sure they are completely coated with this sticky mix. If there's not enough, add a little more oil. Empty everything into a roasting tin, and cook in a hot oven for about 40 minutes.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Spelt bread

Here is a FANTASTIC recipe for almost instant bread made with spelt flour, which was first brought to Britain by the Romans, and which has more taste than your average supermarket flour.

500g spelt flour
10g fast-acting dried yeast
a good pinch of sea salt
50g sunflower seeds
50g sesame seeds
50g linseeds
500ml warm water

Combine all the dry ingredients, then mix in the water. Pour into a greased bread tin, and bake for nearly an hour at 200C. Take it out of the tin and put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes.

This was in the Telegraph Magazine a couple of weeks ago, and came from Sybille Wilkinson, an Austrian whose husband Andrew grows spelt at Gilchesters Farm, Northumberland. Spelt grows nearly six foot tall, but doesn't fall over - modern wheat crops have to be given chlormequat, a chemical growth regulator which is supposed to strengthen the straw. In 2003 50% of 144 baked bread samples (in Britain) turned out to have residues of this chemical. It's a strong argument for organic, and for biodiversity.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A request ...

A sweet tooth seems to be common amongst food bloggers; certainly I get the most comments if I write about puddings (apart from the banoffee pie, which you all seem to have decided, probably rightly, was too disgusting to trouble yourselves with). We don't eat pudding all that often, but, even so, it's the area of our new diet which has consistently given me the most trouble. I'm stuck in a meringue / fruit salad rut.

With that in mind, I'd like to ask you all a favour ... can you give me your best low-fat pudding recipe? No butter, no cream, not too many eggs (although limitless egg whites), no coconut.

Thank you!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Banoffee pie

Alfred is very keen on bananas, and there was a bunch left blackening in the fruit bowl while we were away in Switzerland. I couldn't bear to throw them away, but Alfred doesn't really like them unless they're bright yellow. So I was pleased to find a recipe entitled 'healthy banoffee pie' in this month's issue of the Waitrose food magazine.

The difficulty we have with lots of puds is the piecrust problem, because most piecrusts, whether or not they are pastry, contain fearsome amounts of butter. This one solves the problem by making the crust out of nuts and dates. It's quite successful (although I have to admit, I didn't use the specified almonds, because I didn't have any and there were hazelnuts galore in the larder), but I think I will have to play with it some more to make it really good - somehow, the crust seemed bitty, even though I used extra dates to glue it all together. It's definitely worth trying, because it's got lots of flavour, and is very light.

*220g hazelnuts
*250g stoned dates
300g 0% Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
3-4 sliced bananas

Oil a large cake tin with removable sides. Blitz the nuts, then add the dates. Press this gooey mess into the tin. Freeze. Meanwhile, put the yoghurt into a shallow dish, sprinkle it with sugar and put it in the fridge. Assemble by putting the base onto a large plate (leave it on the base of the tin, otherwise you'll have a terrible mess), covering it with sliced banana, and adding the yoghurt (stir it lightly first, to make sugary streaks). You can decorate this with shavings of dark chocolate (use a potato peeler).

The recipe says that it should be served immediately, because the nut case will soften at room temperature. We ate half straight away, the rest the next day, and it was still delicious, despite its soggy bottom.

* the original recipe specified 220g blanched almonds and 180g stoned dates

Quick post about a quick lunch

All the children have gone back to their various colleges and schools, so today is the first quiet day of the year. I normally don't bother to make lunch when it's just me (there's nearly always something left over in the fridge, or fruit, or salad), but I've got a cold, and hanker after carbohydrate. I cooked a bowl of spaghetti, coated it in olive oil and the juice of half a lime, added some finely chopped coriander, then some of the fried anchovy crumbs which are now a permanent feature of my fridge, together with a little pinch of dried chilli seeds. Delicious. The key to fast food is a little preparation, carried out when you've got time and/or feel like cooking.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lamb chops

Horatio asked for lamb chops for supper. We don't really eat chops any more, as they can be 50% fat; instead, I buy leg steaks, which are cut across the leg and have no visible fat, so need to be cooked carefully if they are not to end up the texture of cardboard. He looked rather suspiciously at them, and even more so at the chick pea puree I had made to go with them.

The thing is, I've been reading Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. In some ways it's a very annoying book - I mean, what's wrong with a blog if you want to tell people what you're eating day to day, rather than make them wait over a year (especially if you're trying to get them to see the point of seasonal eating, you'd think doing it in real time would ram the point home rather more forcefully)? On the other hand, it's full of things you want to eat, that are just slightly nicer than the way you already cook them.

I didn't actually follow any of the recipes, but this supper was very definitely inspired by the Kitchen Diaries.

Chickpea puree
Rinse two tins of chickpeas, warm them through in water. Meanwhile, in a lot more oil than you would normally use, fry a chopped onion until brown, perhaps crisping at the edges. Blitz the chickpeas to a puree with the oil (but not the onions), some garlic and a little salt. Put in a hot dish and cover with the onions.

Fennel salad
Finely chop a head of fennel. Mix with equal quantities of rocket (or watercress) in a shallow dish. Grate the zest of a lemon over the salad. Make a vinaigrette with lemon juice and pour over the salad.

Grill your lamb. Meanwhile, fry up some chopped garlic and finely shredded mint, to go over the lamb when you serve it.

I thought this was about as good as supper gets, particularly the chickpeas. Horatio said it wasn't quite what he was imagining when he asked for chops: "I was thinking more, mashed potato and peas," he said. "Fennel, that's the one I don't like that tastes aniseedy." Lucius ate the chickpea puree dutifully, rather like a small boy eating his greens because he's been told they're good for him. Girly food, clearly. They loved the lamb, though.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Vegetables for lunch

The BBC website has a story today that new research at Imperial College London shows that eating lots of veg cuts blood pressure. Researchers studied 4,680 middle-aged people, and found significant benefits to eating vegetable protein. On the other hand, they didn't find evidence that eating lots of meat was linked to high blood pressure. So - plenty of veg, including lots of beans for the protein, some meat (with the visible fat removed), along with regular portions of oily fish. Puddings to be fruit-based where possible. More or less what we're doing.

Yesterday, for lunch, I had noodle soup. Just one of those small cheap blocks of 3-minute noodles. But it couldn't have been further from the salty, monosodium-glutamatey taste the manufacturers had prepared in a sachet to go with them. First I chopped and stir fried some spring greens with a little chopped garlic. Then I added some home-made stock I had in the fridge which I made at the weekend after we had roast chicken for supper. When the noodles were cooked, I stirred in some crabmeat which I couldn't resist when I went shopping in the morning. A squeeze of lemon, some pepper. Delicious. And it only took about a minute longer than opening the sachet over the noodles. Afterwards I thought that it would be one dish where tinned crabmeat would be perfectly acceptable.

Today, I had a stir-fry of more spring greens, lots of them, with some chopped garlic. When they were done, I stirred in a teaspoon of the chilli jam I made in the autumn, and sprinkled them with some re-fried anchovy breadcrumbs lurking in the back of the fridge, then squirted the juice of half a lime which has been sitting around on the worktop for several days. Really good, lots of flavours.

There were three key ingredients which made these meals quick and easy to prepare, all of them home-made, but none of them particularly time-consuming:

Stock is something I make automatically after we have roast chicken; it doesn't take long, I feel thrifty, the ingredients are all to hand, and it means there's no temptation to use expensive stock which comes in not very bio-degradable plastic pots (I don't use stock cubes any more, because even the best-quality ones have ingredients which I either don't understand or know I don't want to eat). To make stock, I remove any meat left which can be used for another meal; I put the bones in a large pan with any leftover veg (but not potato, because the starch clouds the stock). I put in some fresh veg if I have it - celery, carrots, parsley stalks - and a few whole peppercorns (mine are multi-coloured), occasionally, for a change, a couple of cloves. I cover this with water, put the pot on to simmer, covered, for a couple of hours. Or more if I forget it. Then I strain it, cool it, put it in the fridge, and when I start to run out of it, I go out and buy another chicken for dinner. The main thing is not to get hung up on quantities or even timing, just to do it, and then do it again better - which is to say, how you like it. Recipe books often tell you to reduce it; I don't bother, because it steams up the kitchen, and you quite often have to add more water when it's concentrated (especiallly if you're making risotto). Sometimes I'll reduce a little for a specific dish, and that saves a lot of trouble.

I've written about the anchovy crumbs before (you just blitz some bread, add a tin of anchovies, blitz again, then fry them up, and use them instead of cheese on pasta, in soup, as a crispy topping for tuna bake, or - well, with whatever could do with a little crunch and zip). Now I have discovered that anchovy crumbs keep very well in the fridge, and can be used either straight from the fridge, or refried. I shall start making them in bulk and keeping them in an airtight box (at the moment, storage is haphazard, although they don't seem to suffer).

The chilli jam was something I made in November, when I felt like cooking one afternoon; there wasn't much work involved, although I had to be around to watch it while it cooked down. I've just sent the last bottle to a fellow food blogger, so I'll have to make some more in the next couple of weeks, as I now can't imagine life without it for pepping things up. As I said earlier, I have stopped using stock cubes, so I sometimes need strong tastes to stir in to sauces - chilli jam makes a change from, say, Worcester sauce or Marmite, or even stock. I'm not techie enough to give you a link to the original recipe, so I'm reproducing it here:

"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), & half a little bottle of Thai fish sauce. 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)."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year resolutions - three tips for losing weight

Health and happiness for 2006.

Last night, for the second year in a row, I made positive resolutions, things to achieve in the coming months, rather than things to give up. But I have made one traditional resolution, and that is to do what it takes to lose the couple of pounds I am sure I have put on over Christmas. Last year we were at home, and it was easy to organise a low fat feast. This year, we were away, which made it more difficult. I shall go back to the strictest form of our diet, to the sheet I posted when I began this blog.I am interested, though, in how other people set about losing a couple of pounds, and so I would like to start a meme as I am sure I am not the only person in this position at this time of year.

Three tips for losing weight
1. Cut out saturated fat
2. Drink plenty of weak tea with lemon juice
3. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables

I nominate Zabeena to tell us what her three tips are