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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

First outing for our Buff Orpington chicks

Over at Peanut Butter Etouffe, they're asking for takers for a food bloggers pet of the month. There's a wonderful photo of a fluffy white dog. Somewhere else (sorry, can't give you a link) there's weekend cat blogging.

Here at Joanna's Food, I'm starting a poultry fanciers' corner ... just look at our buff Orpington chicks (hatched last Sunday and Monday) on their first jaunt round the garden, both broodies now in full-on maternal mode, with the cockerel leading them out. Wonderful.

Lamb shanks for the crew

Well, they looked pretty good as they flashed by in the qualifying races - the boats set off at 15 second intervals, and the qualifiers are the nine fastest out of well over 30 crews. These photographs were taken at the end of the course (one mile and 550 yards, against the stream, which is running extremely strong at the moment), and before they heard the result. They were the 10th fastest. The fastest non-qualifiers. They hid their disappointment well, and behaved magnificently in defeat.

Later, they came home, and I gave them lamb shanks for dinner. I needed it to be something that I didn't have to cook at the last minute, something that would be ready as soon as they were, something that wouldn't spoil if it was in the oven for an hour too long. Pot roast would have been good, but I didn't want to bother with carving. The lamb shanks were in the oven for three hours or so, the meat dripping off the bones, easy to make, easy to serve, easy for four disappointed but hungry boys to eat.

Lamb shanks

I'm not giving precise amounts, because this is a method, rather than a recipe, and because this is fuss-free food, the sort of thing that is supposed to make your life easier, not more fretful. Don't worry if you haven't got any tomatoes, leave them out, it'll be just as good. I suspect you could add a few soaked chickpeas. Etc. The point is that you can prepare it ahead, and leave it to cook later. I did all the prep in the morning (right through to adding the water), left it to one side, then put it in the oven just as I was leaving the house at six o'clock, and we ate at about nine. How easy is that?

Chop and brown onions, one for each lamb shank (one shank per person, this is one occasion when you really don't need any extra for luck!). Soften them in some oil in a casserole dish large enough to take all the meat. Push to one side and brown the shanks (in practice, you want the "top" side browned, don't worry too much about the rest, because you'll never get substantial bits of them to make contact with the pan). Put in a little flour to thicken the sauce, and, if you've got some, a little red wine. At this point you could also add whatever flavourings you like to accompany lamb - cumin, or cinnamon, perhaps mint. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, and then top up with water, leaving the top third of the shanks exposed (browned side up). Bring to the boil, then put in the oven 150C for at least a couple of hours. Go out and do something else while they cook - they don't need any kind of attention.

Serve with bread and a salad (or cook some potatoes if you feel like it).

PS you could cook it more slowly if you wanted more time to be out and about - you'll need to experiment a bit, but the same dish at 100C would probably need three to four hours. I would think that the slower cooking would make the meat even sweeter.

Lifting the boat out of the water before hearing the results. The house you can see in the background on the other side of the river was my childhood home. My parents used to host Harvard lightweight crews in the 1970s. One of them also won the Thames Cup (see yesterday's post).

Friday, June 29, 2007

Strawberry sponge

This week is horrendously busy, and next week will be even more. I live just outside Henley on Thames, where there is a regatta (next week) which draws crews from all over the world. They stay in houses all round the district, and I have put up crews for years.

This year, we have Newport Aquatic Center from California - and one of the team is a very distant cousin (this fact discovered a year or two ago by his uncle and my father, in a huge coincidence which may be too complicated to explain here). Next week they will be joined by London Rowing Club, who have stayed here for a number of years, and won the Thames Cup from the house. I give them breakfast (cereal, toast, juice, fruit, yoghurt), and dinner.

So there's a lot of cooking going on here, great volumes of food for hungry rowers. It's not exactly according to our rules, but not far from it. The main difference is that they eat meat most nights, I haven't given them fish or a veggie meal. So it's mince in various guises, chicken pieces, stews, and, tonight, braised lamb shanks. I give them two or three vegetables to go with their main course, which is how we normally eat. Pudding is either fruit or something I've made involving fruit.

A couple of nights ago there were some strawberries slightly past their best. So I made them into a sponge pudding (Nick, the coach, said he would have called it a cobbler ... I wouldn't quite, although it's in the same area). It was good, the sponge was - by mistake - cooked very slowly, which gave it a toffeeish stickiness that made one or two people think I'd used almonds.

Strawberry sponge


Two punnets of strawberries
a little sugar
the juice of a lemon
Three medium eggs & their weight in sugar, flour, and Flora

Put the strawberries into a saucepan with a little sugar and the lemon juice. Heat through until it all looks glossy. You don't need to cook the fruit, because it will soften as the sponge cooks. Pour them into a well-greased shallow ovenproof dish.

Weigh the eggs (this method is child's play if you use a balance scale, and only slightly more complicated if you don't). Break them into a mixing bowl, and add their weight of sugar, flour and Flora. Beat vigorously until the mixture pales in colour. If you beat it this hard you do not need to use a raising agent (and I don't bother even when I'm making a Victoria sponge cake in this way). Pour this over the strawberries and bake for half an hour in a coolish oven, say 160C. Test with a skewer, or press the middle gently.

This is good hot or cold. If you're eating it hot, it's advisable to leave it to stand for a few minutes, so that you don't burn your tongue on the strawberries.

Delicious. A lovely summer treat, especially for the sort of summer we're having (cold, wet - blah blah whinge whinge). You could use any sort of fruit (I've got some apples no-one seems interested in eating, so I'll make it with those, but I'll have to cook them through properly before covering them with the sponge). This is really good and easy for a crowd. The amounts I've given here would be good for 8-10 people, but you could easily increase or decrease it - just weigh the ingredients against the eggs, and make sure there's enough sponge mix to cover the fruit (it rises a bit, so you need to spread it fairly thin).

Oh, and I forgot to say, Alfred is playing in a cricket tournament at Eton this week, so I had to make time to watch him. The final is going on right now (can't go, got to see the crew in the qualifying races for the main regatta - they're a long way from home, so need all the vocal support they can get!). Here he is bowling, doing that little skip thing that slow bowlers often do.

Friday, June 22, 2007

HotM 4: vegetables roundup

One thing's for sure, everyone knows that vegetables are good for you ... this is the best yet for Heart of the Matter, now in its fourth month. Ilva and I set it up so that we could all pool our knowledge of good good-for-you recipes, concentrating on food that won't damage your heart.

It's a record entry, with contributions from 32 different blogs: thank you everyone for taking part - it's really exciting for us both to see Heart of the Matter take off. And if I've left anyone out, please email me straight away - I've checked and double-checked, but there are so many entries I'm feeling a little paranoid!

The first entry came from Wendy within 24 hours of the announcement. It's for Simon Hopkinson's delicious spiced aubergine salad, an adaptation of an Elizabeth David Sicilian recipe. I'm going to make it tonight.

Lisa at Food and Spice makes vegetarian miso soup with lots of seasonal vegetables. She says it's traditional to add tofu to this soup, but she doesn't, and there's more information for anyone else worried about eating soya in a link she's included.

Deborah's tomato stuffed with couscous is a favourite in her house - and she's included a per-serving nutrition calculation. There's a link to some software which will do this for you - check it out at the Humble Housewife.

Lorraine at Italian Foodies sent me two submissions in one email, both delicious salads - one's a cannellini bean salad, which she can make now that you can buy cannellini beans in Ireland where she lives. The other's a potato salad, a little more traditional in Ireland. A few days later, she sent me a link to another HotM post, this time for a lovely rice salad, which you can adapt according to what's in your fridge.

Nora at Life's Smorgasbord (sorry, I can't do all those accents!) thinks that we'll all be put off by the title of her post - Chinese cabbage and anchovy stock. But lots of comments show that the recipe one that's created a lot of interest. I'd never heard of anchovy stock before (it's a traditional Malay ingredient), but I'm definitely going to source some, because I use a lot of anchovy in my cooking to add depth of flavour, and to increase our omega oil consumption.

Ilva at Lucullian Delights, my co-founder for Heart of the Matter, has sent several entries ... it's always hard to choose a favourite amongst her lovely photographs - this one is corn couscous with zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, rucola and olives
- delicious as well as beautiful. Next she gave us a minty zucchini and tomato salad which is so good that she ate it for her lunch three days in a row! Her spinach and green split pea soup flavoured with fennel is just right for the kind of cold, wet days we're having at the moment, even though it's the summer solstice!

Richa at As Dear As Salt has made a pumpkin dish which she calls For the Love of your Heart, Butternut Squash. It is gently spiced, as you'd expect from someone whose blog proclaims her pride in her Indian roots. I can't wait to try it, as I LOVE butternut.

Susan, the Well-Seasoned Cook, has a glut of huge courgette to conquer (or should that be a huge glut of courgette?). Lots of us will be there too in a week or two, so her post is timeley - sneaking out to check on the zucchini, giving it to neighbours if they get too big for her squash fries.

Johanna invented her deconstructed pumpkin hummus because squash is her favourite food since childhood, and she wanted to eat tahini for her supper. Read all about it at Green Gourmet Giraffe, where Roxy Music is the music of choice to cook by.

Alanna at A Veggie Venture wants to know who says hummus always has to be made with garbanzos? And she gives us a recipe for lima bean hummus which she used to make crostini for her book club, topped with a little goat's cheese. As she says, the light green colour makes a welcome change from the muddy colour of traditional hummus.

Katie at Thyme for Cooking has made a lovely salad of lentils on a bed of spinach leaves. There's a creamy mustard dressing, too. And she gives a great method for cooking parcels of vegetables on the barbie, to make sure you get your five-a-day!

Emma the Laughing Gastronome uses brussels sprouts in her coleslaw. And it's not just the veg that's unusual, the dressing sounds wonderful - yoghurt, cider vinegar, wasabi paste .. not your average coleslaw!

Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen posted this fabulous recipe for roasted asparagus with soy-sesame flavours just before she left for San Francisco. She adapted one of her own earlier recipes - because asparagus is one of the world's healthiest foods. She provides links for you to follow up information about asparagus.

Sarina Nicole at Trinigourmet has a recipe for pasta with cauliflower, lighter than many because there's no white sauce involved. It was part of her Mother's Day menu.

Over at Vanille and Chocolat, Inne has made a lovely green salad. She was inspired by one she bought ready-made at M & S, and has been making her own version ever since.

Kazari at I Think I Have a Recipe for That made a simple minestrone while watching CSI. She's paired it with basil pitta chips. Comfort food for the Australian winter. (Sorry Kazari, I couldn't get your picture to upload ... some strange blogger blip.)

Tigerfish gives us Choy Joy - choy is Cantonese for vegetables. She gives us a really helpful rundown on the differences (or lack of them) between all the different names you find for the various sorts of Chinese greens you can buy. And then she treats us to a delicious Bok Choy Sum and Tomatoes Salad in Scallion/Ginger Dressing.

Abby at Confabulation in the Kitchen has prepared sesame broccoli. As she says, It's broccoli, it's green, it's olive oil, it's honey, it's balsamic vinegar. What's bad about all of that?

At Anita's Mad Tea Party, there's an unusual treat in store - Kashmirir greens, or monjji haak, to give them their proper name. It's kohlrabi greens, for those of us that need a translation!

Laura's made orange crush - it's a yummy butternut squash salad, and you can read all about it at Eat Drink Live.

Don't these look great? Baked lotus root chips, and Bee says you can easily buy Lotus root (nadur in Kashmiri/bhein in Punjabi/kamal kakri in Hindi) in Thai/Chinese/Indonesian shops. Bee's put in all the nutritional information you could want, and you'll find all the details at Jugalbandi

My old friend Jeanne at Cook Sister! has prepared pak choi with peppadews, which she says goes well with salmon steaks.

Ayone at Food is Love gives us an Indonesian treat, Cap Cay, which has five different spiced vegetables - a great way to get your five-a-day in one dish.

Look at all the summer squash Christine bought in the market! She made Zucchini and Sunburst Squash Sauteed with Garlic and Herbs and A Medley of Squash, Red Bell Peppers, Corn, Edamame, Garlic and Herbs. Read all about it at Christine Cooks.

Lisa at La Mia Cucina liked Alanna's beans so much that she asked Alanna of A Veggie Venture if she could submit them to HotM4 ... and Alanna said yes. So you have two chances to read the recipe!

Priya at Live to Cook is a vegetarian cook from India, and says that many indian veggie dishes are not particularly healthy (think pakora, samosa, tikki, kofta). Here, she redresses the balance with her beautiful Cracked wheat and Vegetable Baath.

Amanda at Little Foodies not only cooked these beans, she grew them, so they got extra special attention as she steamed them. She gives cultivation hints (and advice about how to deal with the slugs that might get to them first!), and a recipe for broad bean soup.

Marla at Bella Baita View is an experienced blogger who is just beginning to blog about food. This is her fennel and beetroot salad with mint, which I can't wait to try, because it's got so many of my favourite tastes in one dish. I can't make a permalink to the salad, because every time I try I get back to Joanna's Food, but you'll find it with the link I've given you (and she posted on 21st June).

Another old friend, Johanna the Passionate Cook, is sharing a heart-healthy recipe with us. And as you'd expect from Johanna, it's an elegant salad, beautifully presented. She uses seasonal vegetables for her Broad bean, asparagus, feta & parma crisp salad with lemon & mint dressing. It's versatile, too, as you can serve it both as a starter or a main.

Susan at Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen has lots of ideas for anyone looking for heart-friendly food, low in fat, high in taste, and preferably involving lots of vegetables. Here she has reworked a spinach kofta recipe, reducing the fat by replacing cheese with tofu, and served with a cucumber / soy-yoghurt sauce.

Cin from A Few of My Favourite Things has contributed a Kylie Kwong recipe for steamed eggplant. The twist is that the aubergine was grown by her father-in-law, so deserved special attention.

I was just about to publish this post when I remembered that I haven't included any of my contributions. Here they are: Pesto mash, kohlrabi, Kohl slaw, Mushrooms in stabilised yoghurt sauce, and One vegetarian day a week will save the earth, as well as your health..

Thanks to everyone for all the lovely recipes. Together we are building a really worthwhile resource. See you next time!

One vegetarian day a week will save the earth, as well as your health

Today's the last day for entries to this month's Heart of the Matter ... the topic this time is vegetables, and I've already got lots of delicious recipes to share with you in the roundup. I'll start working on it tonight, and will post it tomorrow, so there'll probably be room for your submission even if it's a little late. All the details you need for submission are here.

Meanwhile, here's something interesting to spur you on ... going veggie one day a week will make a significant difference to the planet, as well as your health. This list of 10 reasons to go veggie one day a week comes from Wannaveg, a website I discovered this morning. It makes food for thought.

The top 10 reasons why adopting a vegetarian diet one day a week will make a difference. In a year you will…

* Save 84,000 gallons of water.

* Save 245 lbs of grain.

* Save 7,700 sq feet of rain forest. (That is equivalent to four good-sized houses.)

* Reduce your contribution to the over 10,000,000,000 animals slaughtered for food.

* Save 15.5 gallons of gasoline, good for one fill-up!

* Not contribute to over 403 lbs of manure produced by food animals.

* Reduce your contribution to over 24,000,000 pounds of antibiotics that are added to animal feed.

* Save 87 square feet of topsoil from erosion.

* Reduce your impact on our quickly-vanishing ocean life!

* Do not forget about your health! A vegetarian diet, even one day a week, will help reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, and it may even help to drop a few pounds.

There are figures on the website to back up all these claims. It's often difficult to know how you can make any kind of difference ... this is worth thinking hard about, because it works in purely personal terms, as well as global ones, and there's no doubt we're all better at thinking about ourselves than the bigger picture!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ground elder makes a lovely cut flower, too!

If it's welcome news that ground elder is good stewed or in a salad, how about this? It's terrific in flower arrangements when you want something light and ethereal for an informal summer arrangement. Queen Anne's Lace - that pompously renamed stalwart of the early-summer hedgerow - is first choice, until you actually use it, and discover that it lasts less than a day. An alternative is ammi majus, the Bishop's Flower, but you don't see that in many florists', and you'd have to get organised to grow it.

Ground elder, on the other hand, just grows. And grows. If you turn your back for a moment in late spring, it's everywhere. And if you leave it until mid-June - it flowers!

My great discovery is that it has a good vase life - four days after picking, there's no sign of drop or decay, despite being kept in a hot room which sends many flowers early to the bin. This vase is arranged with some of those invasive semi-wild geraniums that I pull out in favour of better colours - but here they are just the thing for the summer solstice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Horatio's bolognaise sauce with milk

Lucius and I went out to supper on Monday night, so Horatio was left to his own cooking devices. He bought mince for a bolognaise, something he often makes with Alfred. They usually follow a Mary Berry recipe in the Aga Cookbook (you can tell, because of all the tomato and grease on the pages!). I don't know whether he couldn't find the book or whether he wanted a change, but this time he used a different recipe, something more authentically Italian, which specifies using milk. Lettice couldn't believe it: "bizarre" she said. I've never made a ragu with milk, although I've often thought I should - but it's so easy to keep on doing the same old thing. Now I think I will always use milk, because it was delicious - sweet (too sweet, said Horatio), thick, rich, smooth.

The book he used was Pasta, by Eric Treuille and Anna del Conte, but he simplified the recipe according to his taste, and what he didn't find in the fridge. Bacon? Nah. Bay leaf? Don't need one of them. Garlic? Of course. Nutmeg? He didn't bother to answer, just gave me one of those "are you mad?" looks that teenagers do so well. Full fat milk? Is there any other kind?

Obviously this is a recipe I'd have to adapt further - take out the butter, use lower fat milk, make sure the mince was extra lean. And I would use the flavourings - nutmeg is particularly good with red meats, although I'm never quite sure whether I can taste bayleaf unless it's in a fish pie.

Horatio's slightly simplified classic ragu bolognese

Fry a couple of onions in a mixture of butter and olive oil (60g & 2 tablespoons). When they're nearly cooked, add a finely chopped garlic clove. Tip in 500g mince, and brown it. Here Horatio, a cook after my own heart, added his own embellishment, some chopped chorizo (he had left out the 60g bacon specified in the original recipe). Then add 2 tbsp tomato puree, 150ml red wine, 150 ml stock. Bring to the boil, and simmer gently for two hours. While it cooks, add milk. You need to add 150 ml in total, two tablespoons at a time at 20-30 minute intervals. You'll know when it's ready - it's a lovely thick, rich sauce.

He ate this with pasta shells. I'd serve it with spaghetti. Delicious. I know because we ate the leftovers for lunch.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ground elder salad

Ground elder is the bane of my gardening life. It's everywhere in this garden. I don't use chemicals (although Lucius puts them on his croquet lawn), so we either have to mow it to destruction, or pull it by hand, which means getting every last little bit of white root, or else it springs to life again in a depressingly vigorous manner. It is, as any British gardener will tell you, a losing battle.

However, on the principle that a weed is merely a plant in the wrong place, I have learnt to love ground elder, just a little, so that I don't fall into despair. And these are the reasons: the Romans introduced it into England because of its pretty ornamental leaf (yes, it IS pretty, but so invasive that that's easy to forget); Wikipedia says you can use it to treat gout and arthritis; and because it is good in a salad.

Yes, salad. You should look for young leaves, and add them to your salad (cheaper than one of those expensive supermarket pillow packs, and even more ubiqitous). It has an interesting taste - a little like dandelion without the sharpness; on the way to sorrel without the lemony-ness, and so responds well to a dressing made with lemon juice. It wilts pretty quickly, but I find that is true of almost all the soft salad leaves that grow in this garden.

There's just one thing you should know, particularly at this time of year. According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, it becomes strongly laxative once it has flowered. But, as I say, you need to look for fresh young growth to put in your salad bowl.

I'm ashamed to say that some of mine has been in the ground so long that it has just come into flower, rather a pretty and delicate white flower. So now I'm going to pick it and see what sort of vase life it has. Who knows, I may start really loving it!

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this time by Astrid at Paulchen's Food Blog

Monday, June 18, 2007

Easy salmon cakes

Television cooks are always banging on about how their elaborate supper dishes only take 30 minutes to cook. But by the evening, most people are too exhausted or idle to be cooking from scratch, certainly on a regular basis. This is a problem if you don't want to eat industrially processed food. Much better than so-called quick food is the concept of easy slow food.

This recipe illuminates one aspect of the slow food approach - the deliberate creation of leftovers. Here it was salmon. On Friday, I bought a filleted side of salmon, and cooked it in my usual way, smothered in lemon zest and pepper & baked in a hot oven. We ate about a third of it.

The next day, I used the leftovers to make a salmon fishcake mix. We ate some for supper, others went into the freezer. The recipe is an adaptation of my Maryland crabcakes, using Matzo meal rather than mashed potato, which gives a lighter result (and means that Lucius can eat potatoes with them: he sees any meal without hot potatoes as a wasted opportunity).

The point about this recipe is that the ingredients need to be mixed ahead of time, so that the Matzo has time to soften and absorb the flavours. Just leave the mixing bowl in the fridge, covered with a plate (quicker than clingfilm, apart from any other consideration). It only takes a couple of minutes, and can be done up to 24 hours ahead, although half an hour is enough, too. That means you can mix it up the night before, or in the morning, and then all you need to do in the evening, when you no longer have the energy to think (let alone cook), is put the mixture in dollops into your frying pan and mix up a salad.

Salmon cakes

1 egg
2 tsp Dijon mustard
the juice of one lemon
450g cooked salmon
50g Matzo meal
chopped herbs (optional)

Mix the egg with two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and the lemon juice (zest, too, if you like). Add the salmon and Matzo meal and, using a fork, stir together until it's all amalgamated. When you're ready to cook, you can chop in some herbs - dill would be good with salmon, or parsley, chives, perhaps coriander. Shape into patties - these days, I use a ring, because these are a little flaky, but you really don't have to. If you want to freeze them, now's the moment, interleaved with greaseproof paper. I'd thaw them all day in the fridge before cooking them, but I dare say you could cook them from frozen (as if you'd bought the cardboard sort in Tesco). They need about five minutes on each side.

Three delicious,quick, easy, heart-healthy meals.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bloggers' lunch at Books for Cooks

Lunch yesterday with Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups, her friend Sue from Texas, and Karen of Bake My Day. Tanna and Sue have been in Europe visiting their blog friends, including Karen, so I wanted to find somewhere special to meet, because just about anything could be an anti-climax after eating at Angelika's new kitchen in Vienna!

We met at Books for Cooks in Blenheim Crescent, just off Portobello Road. This little shop is a food blogger's paradise - more than a shop, it has a kitchen/diner at the back, domestic in scale, where they test the recipes book by book. Yesterday it was 100 Great Tapas by Pippa Cuthbert.

Three courses for £7, or two for £5 - no choice, just what's up on the board. And to drink, water from a tap (the best kind), or wine from the proprietors' own vineyard. So three courses it was, a bottle of red, and an enamel jug of water. Even before the food arrived, out came four cameras, capturing the lunch for the blogosphere. That's one of the great things about a blogmeet - everyone takes it as read that the food is worth photographing. No-one whining, "Oh mum, do you have to?" or "That is SO embarrassing" etc etc. We probably were embarrassing, but we were all having far too good a time to notice.

To start, various crostini. Home-made tapenade, a wonderful caramelised fennel and onion & goat's cheese. Then lightly spiced meatballs with orzo. Orzo looks like rice, if you're not inspecting it too closely. Tanna spotted straight away that it wasn't rice, and told us that orzo, which I'd never had before, is a type of pasta. Good. Worth seeking out.

Pudding was cake and coffee. The sweet girls cooking lunch could see they'd never get a straight answer out of us over what cakes we'd like with our coffee - and so they prepared us a tasting plate of all four. I liked the lemon sponge best, Karen preferred the meringue, Tanna gave her chocolate-coated banana cake to Sue, and concentrated on the pineapple cake instead.

It was a wonderful lunch - Tanna's laughter is infectious, there was food to enjoy, stories to tell, the pleasure to come of browsing in the bookshop. Later, laden with shopping, we crossed the road to the Spice Shop, a tiny space crammed full of spices from all over the world. More shopping. And then I had to go. I left the three of them to explore the delights of the Portobello Road on a market day. I hope that London was all they wanted it to be.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Mushrooms in a stabilised yoghurt sauce

At the heart of this sauce is a method which will transform your cooking, if you want to make creamy sauces without using cream or any of those rather nasty-sounding cream substitutes. It's not something I invented, just a simple traditional technique which stops the yoghurt curdling into a bitty inedible mess.

For the past couple of years, much of my cooking has been directed at finding ways to cut saturated fat out of our diet, without fuss, and without compromising the taste. The result has been a light and fresh diet, one in which we cook everything from scratch, which doesn't have to take long (and often doesn't).

This has been much easier for the two of us than for the children, who are still keen to eat huge hunks of cheese, or fatty lamb chops (to name two favourites). And Lettice has developed a fondness for mushrooms in various cream sauces (I blame Antonio Carluccio, as she ate the first one at the new(ish) Carluccio's in Oxford, at the old prison).

The mushrooms I cooked last night are not in themselves particularly exciting, because I was afraid that the sauce would curdle whatever I did to stabilise the yoghurt, so I didn't waste much time on them, fearing they'd end up in the bin.

Mushrooms in a creamy yoghurt sauce

I broke a punnet of mushrooms into pieces, put them in a saucepan with a splash of wine (the end of a bottle), and stewed them gently. After a while, before all the wine had evaporated, they gave up their own juices, and I carried on cooking them until they were nearly dry. I added a splash of balsamic vinegar (because that's how Lettice likes her mushrooms).

Meanwhile, I mixed 1 dessertspoon of plain flour into 3 tablespoons of 0% fat Greek yoghurt. When the mushrooms were cooked, I added this to the pan, and put it on a gentle heat. I wasn't at all sure it would work, and watched the sauce anxiously for signs of splitting, but it didn't, even though I kept it on the heat for about four minutes to cook the flour.

Delicious, the slight sharpness of yoghurt being more to my taste than the cloying sweetness of cream. But as this is not true for Lettice, I'm going to experiment a little further, perhaps adding ground almonds for sweetness. Watch this space.

This is an entry for this month's Heart of the Matter, concentrating on vegetable dishes. I am hosting this time - and I'd love you to participate. Please send the link to your entry to me joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk, the last day is 22nd June, please remember to link here and that we want only one-event entries.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cumin in beetroot soup

I've never really liked cumin. Until last night. We went to a lovely birthday dinner for Lucius's old friend Tim: old friends, good conversation, good food.

We started with beetroot soup, its jewel colour set off by the emerald blue ring round the soup dishes. The cumin emphasised the sweetness of the beet. It wasn't harsh or overwhelming, which is how cumin often tastes on my palate.

I like to think of myself as a competent cook, and I'm not heavy-handed with spices, so I think it must be a failure of shopping rather than cooking. I've looked up cumin, and have found what I think must be the cause of the trouble ... Wikipedia says that the strong, warm aroma (is) due to their abundant essential oil content. So dry frying the seeds before grinding them is clearly important - and keeping a fresh fresh stock of seeds is obviously essential. We're just not eating it fast enough!

Time to go shopping, I think! Some corners are not worth cutting.

PS as soon as I finished writing this post, just as I was about to hit the publish button, it occurred to me that I ought to be able to grow cumin ... it's a member of the parsley family, and that grows well in this garden, if I can keep the rabbits away. There's nothing in any of my gardening books about cumin (this PS is the fruit of half an hour's happy browsing!). So I thought I'd try one last place ... in the next village is one of the prettiest and best of nurseries, the Herb Farm. I telephoned, and the owner answered the phone. No, they didn't grow it any more, because it never sold, but yes, they have seed.

And for the horticulturally-minded amongst you, like parsley, it needs a warm soil to germinate, and germination takes a while.

This has just turned into a post for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Rachel's Bite

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Eleanor

21 years ago today, my first child, Eleanor, was born. A beautiful baby, and now - so quickly - a beautiful young woman.

We were - are - such proud parents ... I had never seen such a beautiful baby, and Lucius brought his office home and set up his computer in the garden so that he could work alongside the two of us in the startling heat of that June.

Now, 21 and just finished at university, awaiting the result of her degree, her life is before her ... good luck, darling girl - and MANY HAPPY RETURNS OF THE DAY!