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

Friday, November 30, 2007

7-day diet with fat-burning soup

I've recently had a spike of searches for this seven-day-eat-all-you-like diet (not sure how they end up on my blog, but they do) ... it's not something I've ever done myself, and I'm not sure I'd want to. But I'd be interested to know what you all think about it ...

I'm a little wary of this claim: This diet is given to people who need to lose weight rapidly before undergoing surgery. And there's something not good about the idea of a fat-burning soup, but here's the recipe:


1 large bunch green onions
2 green peppers
28oz can tomatoes
6 beef bouillon cubes (optional)
several cloves garlic
1 bunch celery
1 large head cabbage
1 package onion soup mix
several bay leaves
herbs or spices

Cut vegetables into small bite-sized pieces and put all except tomatoes into pot. Cover with water and and boil fast for 10 minutes. Let simmer for approximately 30 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes, bring back to boil and heat through. Add soup mix and simmer for 10 mins. May be seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley, curry etc to taste. Add extra tomatoes or cabbage if desired.

The website says it's giving away the diet free as a favour to mankind (womankind??), but it's also trying to get you to spend $18 on a CD.

So I'm confused, and I'd really like your views.

Best blogs of the year

It's nomination time ... and there aren't enough categories, a clutch of my favourite blogs just couldn't be squeezed in to the 2007 Food Blog Awards

Here's a list of blogs that make my day ...

Tanna, Hannah, Sophie, Pomiane, Sue, Celia, Fiona

And here are my nominations:

Best food blog, chef: The Slow Cook
Best food blog, city: Figs Olive Wine
Best food blog, family: Little Foodies
Best food blog, photography: Lucullian Delights
Best food blog, rural: Kate Hill's French Adventure
Best food blog, theme: Garlic Breath
Best food blog, writing: Bread Water Salt Oil
Best new food blog: Book the Cook
Food blog of the year: A Year in Bread

All of these are worth putting in your feed reader, worth exploring. Some of these bloggers I'm proud to call my friends.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Book quiz

Here, for anyone wanting a distraction from whatever it is they are supposed to be doing today, is an amazing quiz. It asks you six questions and then comes up with a book which describes you. Astonishingly perceptive. Too embarrassing to confess.

Besides the Book Quiz, there's a whole website of quizzes, booklists - you can send your 25 best books, in order, and add them to a definitive list of the best books ever written ... how's that for displacement activity?

I've just done it again, got a different path, a different answer, also pretty accurate, one I'll put my hands up to:

You're The Guns of August!

by Barbara Tuchman

Though you're interested in war, what you really want to know is what
causes war. You're out to expose imperialism, militarism, and nationalism for what they
really are. Nevertheless, you're always living in the past and have a hard time dealing
with what's going on today. You're also far more focused on Europe than anywhere else in
the world. A fitting motto for you might be "Guns do kill, but so can

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pink fish

Jean's Pink Fish is the most wonderful retro recipe, a real throwback to the 1950s and 1960s ... we may think it old-fashioned, but everyone fell on it at lunch on Sunday, even those who, like me, had never eaten Jean's version. Anna was amazed, it's not her normal thing at all - she made it to honour her grandmother, and was slightly embarrassed that it didn't go with the rest of lunch.

It's a tinned salmon mousse, with rice.
I've had plenty of salmon mousse, but never with rice - surprisingly, a good addition; thrifty, too.

In the '60s, everyone used to have a ring mould; setting sweet and savoury dishes with gelatine was all the rage. By the 1980s, it was a forgotten art, and, soon after I married, both my mother-in-law and my stepmother passed me on their no-longer-needed ring moulds. I've used them intermittently, mostly for cakes .... but so intermittently that yesterday, where was the small one when I needed it??? I just hope I haven't given it to Sue Ryder or Oxfam! So I made my pink fish in a small loaf tin instead - not so pretty, but just as effective. I used to have a fish mould, but I can't find that, either - and you try buying one of those now: teddy bears, numbers, stars, hearts - but no fish!

Fish mousse became fish pate (I remember making one with a lot of lemon, and stuffing it back into the hollowed-out lemons), as we all discovered how fiddly it was to use powdered gelatine. These days you can buy sheet gelatine in just about every supermarket, so suddenly it's got easy again ... you just soak the leaves in cold water for a few minutes, and then, when you're ready, squeeze out the water, and slide them into your warm ingredients, whereupon they dissolve instantly.

Pink fish is a very useful starter, because you can make it a couple of days ahead, and it's a doddle, too (I did most of it one-handed while chatting to Menna on the phone). The basic ingredients are likely to be in your kitchen - tinned salmon, rice, yoghurt, tomato ketchup, Worcester sauce, tabasco. You use the tin to measure all the other ingredients, another plus.

Jean's version is delicious, and very much of its time - lashings of cream, mayo from a bottle (it had just been invented). I've updated it to make it lighter, and find that the finished dish tastes sharper, not so sickly sweet (all that cream). Next time I make it, I'll update it again, using fresh salmon rather than tinned, and fresh chilli rather than tabasco. It could also be made with lemony-herby flavourings rather than the chilli.

Jean's Pink Fish

1 tin red salmon
1 tin cooked rice
1/2 tin mayo
1/2 tin double cream
1/2 tin milk
enough gelatine to make it set (2 leaves for a small tin, 4 for a big tin)
tomato ketchup
Worcester sauce
salt and pepper

Soak the gelatine in a little cold water. Meanwhile, drain the salmon and mash it in a little bowl. Put cooked rice into the tin and add it to the salmon. Pour the cream and mayo into the tin, then add this to the bowl. Mix well. Season with sauces. The tk will make it pink which is good, but will also add sweetness, which may become too much in this creamy version, so go carefully.

Now measure half a tin of milk, and heat this gently in a small pan (don't let it boil). When it's a little more than blood temperature, take it off the heat, squeeze out the gelantine leaves and add them. Stir, and when you're sure they're dissolved, add them to your paste. Pour it into your prepared mould (either grease it, or line it with clingfilm). This will take a couple of hours in the fridge to set, and will keep, well wrapped, for at least a couple of days.

You get the full '60s flavour of the thing if you make it in a fish mould, and decorate the resulting mousse with overlapping scales made from finely sliced cucumber. But you may be saved from yourself by the lack of a fish mould. In Anna's case it was a tribute to her grandmother.

Joanna's pink fish

1 tin red salmon
1 tin cooked rice
1 tin 0% Greek yoghurt
1/2 tin skimmed milk
gelatine (see above for quantities)
tomato ketchup
Worcester sauce
salt and pepper

Follow the method above. I used a mixture of white rice and wild rice, because that's what there was, but I think that white rice alone would be a better bet, as the wild rice was quite assertive. Brown rice would be worth trying.

I definitely preferred the taste of this one - sharper, tangy-er. I suspect it would be really good made with fresh salmon, and I know that you could have fun changing the flavourings.

A small tin of salmon made enough mousse to fill a small loaf tin, which would cut into eight slices.

Last week Anna made Jean's original sauce for this, but she said it was too disgusting to eat: cream, tk, tabasco ... more of the same, in other words. I think it would be worth trying a green sauce of some sort - capers, vinegar, herbs. That's what I'll do this evening, anyway.

PS if you're one of the many people who have asked for Anna's passionfruit tart recipe - I'm going to phone her tonight to get instructions - they'll be here before the weekend, fingers crossed

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lunch for Jean

We had a lovely lunch for about 60 friends and family yesterday as a memorial for Lucius's aunt, who died last month at a great age at her home in South Africa. The party was given by Lucius's cousin Bruce and his wife Menna, and the cooking was by their younger daughter Anna, who used to be a party designer (I think that's the right word) at the Admirable Crichton, and is now a freelance cook and party organiser.

We spent a merry morning preparing .... tidying, moving furniture, moving cars to make it easier for guests to park, cooking under instruction from Anna - and endlessly discussing how many potatoes and green beans would be required.

Here are my sons preparing smoked salmon which was sent down by courier from Uig Lodge on the west coast of Lewis in the Hebrides. It was, quite simply, the best smoked salmon I've ever tasted - smokey, and not a trace of the oil which often swamps even some of the better smoked salmon I've bought in the past.

We had a number of very delicious salads ... here's finely-sliced celeriac sitting in a bath of orange juice to stop it browning. Anna used orange juice because the salad had oranges in it - useful to know that it works just as well as lemon juice.

One of the most popular dishes was Jean's famous pink fish ... which will be the subject of a separate post later in the week.

I failed to take a photograph of the main dish, a South African lamb and potato stew, or of the green bean salad which we dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and a huge quantity of toasted almond slivers - a delicious combination. This is my favourite photograph of the day: Robbie Honey, the florist, ladling stew from the pot into a dish, using a saucepan as the ladle:

And here are Robbie's beautiful flowers gracing the dining room table, surrounded by a sea of grey-green leaves:

This is Anna's passionfruit tart ... fabulous, isn't it? Also very delicious ... and she rustled up the last one in moments between sorting out salads, chopping vegetables and cheerfully (& with great charm) telling us all what to do next.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lemony chicken nosh

Useful variation on the normal, what to do with a little bit of leftover chicken?

Lemony chicken nosh

I'm not giving amounts because you need to be guided by how much chicken you have and how many people you need to feed.

Cooked chicken, chopped
0% Greek yoghurt
Lemon zest and juice

Chop the onions and sweat them slowly in oil. When they are soft, add the chicken, stir it about so that it doesn't stick. Add a little stock, enough to make a sauce (if you like a thick sauce, then you could add a little flour to the onions before adding the chicken). Simmer gently until you are sure the chicken is heated through. Add the zest of a lemon, and a little of the juice. Take off the heat and stir in a dollop of yoghurt. Lots of pepper is good, too.

Quick, easy, delicious.

This would work well with turkey, too, so it's my first entry for this month's Heart of the Matter, hosted by Ilva at Lucullian Delights, the theme this month is Quick and Easy ... especially to help with the December madness.

Chickpea mash

Last night, I was going to have a quiet night in on my own ... useful, as we are having 60 people to lunch tomorrow, and, although I'm not cooking, there's a lot to be done. At about 6 o'clock Lucius phoned to say he'd be home for dinner after all. I didn't feel like cooking, and I hadn't made any plans. So ... something quick and easy.

Lucius really doesn't count it as a meal unless there are hot potatoes. I just didn't feel like scrubbing off the Hampshire dirt, peeling, cutting, etc etc. Quick and easy. So I opened a tin of chickpeas. He doesn't like chickpeas at the best of times ... It's mash. His face lit up. I felt a little mean. What sort of mash? he said suspiciously. Oh. He took a little ... and left a lot of it. But he ate up all the chicken nosh that went with it, and even one or two slices of roasted squash.

Chickpea mash

One can of chickpeas
One small onion
Olive oil
perhaps a little cumin or chilli to flavour it. Or not

Chop the onion and sweat it in a little oil. If you are using cumin, add it now. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then heat them through in fresh water. When the onions are soft, mix them with the drained chickpeas. Mash - either by hand, or with an electric "wand", or whizz them in a food processor. They're just as good lumpy as smooth.

Delicious - ignore my husband!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chairman Mao's red braised pork

I had a lovely day yesterday watching my younger daughter and her school team (representing Oxfordshire) play fantastic hockey - and win the regional tournament. So now, for the second year running, they go forward to represent the South of England at the National Finals of the U18 schools tournament in March next year. WELL DONE St Edwards! And GOOD LUCK in the nationals!

I read this recipe in a colour supplement a couple of weekends ago, and I've been wanting to make it ever since. Quick to make, so that's a plus, but not very red, and not as good as its name, although I liked it. Lovely Chinese flavours, much nicer than takeaway.

This recipe is - I'm told - from the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop - great name, or what? WHY didn't I call one of my children Fuchsia? Or, even better, Dahlia? No, I know the answer to that, so please don't tell me, especially if you ARE one of my children (!).

Chairman Mao's red braised pork

500g belly pork (I think it would be better with a leaner cut)
2 tbsp oil
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp shaoxing wine
20g sliced fresh ginger (don't bother to peel it)
1 star anise
1 dried chilli
1 stick of cinnamon

Boil the pork in water for four minutes. I don't know why you do this, and I'm not sure that I'd bother again, because in the end, you couldn't tell the difference between the bits that had boiled edges and the bits that didn't. Drain, cool, and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the oil and sugar in a wok (mine is non-stick). When the sugar has melted, turn up the heat and brown it. Then add the pork. Toss until each piece of meat has been coated in the sugary oil. It will spit at you, and the sugar will stick like superglue to your spoon. You can rectify this by burying the spoon under the meat as it cooks, and the sugar will gradually melt.

Add the wine and the spices. Simmer for 45-60 minutes (it will depend on the size of your chunks of meat). I half-covered my wok with its lid, because I couldn't quite believe that the meat would cook in that time. Which meant I had to reduce the sauce a little at the end, but the original instructions say you should do that anyway (I'm not sure you'd need to if you left off the lid ... there wasn't a huge quantity of sauce). I left it to cook by itself, although I turned it over a couple of times during cooking.

Serve with noodles and stir-fried vegetables. You might want some soy sauce, because it's a bit bland, despite the spices. Perhaps a little more chilli.

Worth a try, even though it's not very healthy.

Beyond behind

Sorry for the absence of posts for the past few days - I've been busy busy, Lucius has been ill, and I've been sorting out a new computer for my 86-year-old father. This last work is not yet complete, and may well affect future posts. Yesterday, I went with Lettice to Birmingham University for an open day at the School of Sport and Exercise Science (FAB new building), where they've offered her a place to study next year, so that she could see if she likes it. She does, but not as much as Edinburgh and Leeds.

The fruit for the cake is still soaking ... it's fine, no need to listen to organised cookery writers who tell you to soak the fruit for 24 hours. Weigh it and forget it until you find time again, that works for me. It means you can do the cake in any little moment of time. I am hoping that moment will come this evening, when I'm on my own in the house.

That's if I can tear myself away from the tidying that needs doing (very easily, actually!), because the house is in chaos, and we have 50 people coming for lunch on Sunday (luckily I'm not cooking - but I need to get rid of the fruit cake ingredients littering the worktops, not to mention the piles of newspapers and folded laundry which seem to have come to rest in the kitchen). The lunch is to celebrate the life of Lucius's very dear aunt, who died in South Africa a few weeks ago. We thought there'd be around 25 people coming ... but everyone said yes please, which shows you how much we all loved her.

But first, I'm off to spend the day watching Lettice play hockey, representing Oxfordshire in the South of England schools tournament, and hoping to earn a place for the second year running in the national finals of the schools under-18 competition. Keep your fingers crossed: for success - and for a sunny day!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Christmas cake ... help!!!

There's not a great deal of enthusiasm in this house for Christmas cake, the traditional dark brown sort ... I make it every year, in quantity too, because I make one for my neighbour, another for my father, plus ... well, you know how it can be. But last year, I gave my neighbour the recipe, and said that from now on she'd probably have to make it herself, because I didn't want to be tied to making it every year, since no-one in the house wants Christmas cake (I made four last year, none of them for us).

My plan this year is to make a golden cake, in the hope that it will have more appeal for my family. And to make it even more tempting, I want it to have much much more fruit than is normal, so that it's really fruit glued together with a smidgeon of cake. This will make it heart-friendly, and generally more healthful, since dried fruit counts towards your five-a-day.

And I was wondering, does anyone have any experience of tampering with Christmas cake recipes?
I'm usually not afraid to mess with recipes, but baking - well, it requires precision.

My plan is to double the fruit for the recipe I'm using. I'd really like to triple it, but I think I'm chicken. I'm going to get round the cake tin / quantity problem by using the leftover mixture to make Christmas cup cakes (an idea shamelessly pinched from Nigella's Feast).

All suggestions will be seriously considered ... and, if useful, I'll send you one of the cupcakes, decorated as well as I can manage. As you see, I've started soaking the fruit - this year I'm using my homemade vanilla essence, and it smells absolutely wonderful. Most recipes tell you to soak the fruit for anything from one to three days. Let me tell you, you can leave it soaking for a week or more without any problem at all!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Frying pan bread

or ... A quick-fix breakfast bread for the disorganised

Sooner or later, if you're making all your own bread, you're likely to arrive at that moment, immediately before a meal, when there's NO BREAD and NO TIME. Unless you are super-organised. Which I'm not.

Yesterday, I was out at an all-day course. In the train on the way back from Oxford, I planned the cooking which needed to be sorted before we went out to a community party. Get supper started, make a dozen canapes to take to the party, organise the bread to be made on return from party.

Supper, easy. Canapes, less easy: returned to find Lucius had eaten the last of the bread which was to be the toasted basis of my cheesy morsels. More time than planned therefore spent on canapes. No bread prep. Never mind, I'll make a quick loaf when we get back. Party. Dinner. Collapse of cook, no thought of bread.

Fast forward to this morning, Saturday breakfast, the culinary highlight of Lucius's week (seriously). No bread.

This is what you do:

Mix equal quantities of interesting flour of your choice with white self-raising flour. Add a little salt. Perhaps baking powder, only be careful, because you don't want that slightly acrid taste of too much bp, so I don't bother, less light aka leaden is fine here, because this whole method is a compromise. Add enough water to make a soft dough (if you add too much, chuck in a bit more flour). As there's no yeast here, you can add it straight from the cold tap. Knead lightly and form into a round, rolling or pressing it as thin as you can. Fry gently in a little olive oil, the less the better ... but dry frying isn't a good idea here, as it burns. It needs at least five minutes on each side for the flour to cook through, so if it starts to catch, flip it over and turn down the heat.

It's good with an egg on top, not bad with marmalade. If you use decent flour (and if you're making your own bread, you're more or less bound to have interesting flour in your larder), it's better than bought. And I suppose you could also use this to accompany a curry, a quick naan-ish bread, although I've never done that.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lazy beef stew

I thought I'd posted this weeks ago, but found it lurking on the dashboard, marked as a draft ...

Okay, this dark beef stew, rich in taste and soft as butter .... contains only beef and onions, took less than a minute to put together, and cooked very slowly for nearly four hours. I wouldn't pass it on if it wasn't good.

Very lazily, I opened a can of Eazy onions, tipped them into a heavy casserole, added 750g Hereford beef stewing cubes from Waitrose, clamped on the lid and put them in a slow oven (150C). I had a mild panic after a couple of hours, thinking that the meat would have dried out ... but when I peeked, I found a lovely juicy half-cooked stew. Unbelieveably tasty and tender after nearly four hours. The key is to make sure the lid fits well; if you're unsure, put some greaseproof paper over the top of the pot and then clamp on the lid.

If you don't have Eazy onions (they're worth looking out for, a good shortcut when you're in a hurry), or aren't quite that lazy, then you could add a little effort to this by chopping and slowly sweating a couple of onions. You could also flavour this stew any way you wanted ... a little thyme, perhaps, or some chili, or orange peel and anchovy with a garnish of olives, or ... well, you get the idea.

Just don't think you've got to dredge the meat with flour and spend hours frying it if you want a delicious casserole.

Night falls on Ardnamurchan

Night falls on Ardnamurchan, The Twilight of a Crofting Family by Alasdair Maclean describes a way of life that has died out completely in my lifetime on the West coast of Scotland, in a place very close to where we often go on holiday. I'd never heard of Alasdair Maclean (no, not the thriller writer) before I picked it up in the Oxfam shop, but, within moments of starting to read this lovely book, it was clear that he is a poet.

I want to share this sketch of his father: it seems to me the essence of love.

Normally timid and unassertive outside the house (unless roused), he was very much the master within. I remember him, during my childhood, as being someone whom one approached on tiptoe. He was thin-skinned in the extreme, lightning-quick to feel hurt and to take offence and much given to monumental huffs. These almost always lasted a day or two and sometimes a good bit longer than that. Though he often, and violently, lost his temper and at least once, to my knowledge, fetched my mother a good thump (to be fair, it was a quarrel and she had thrown a shoe at him first; the only such physical occasion that I recall), he never raised his hand to the children. His outbursts of temper, unlike his huffs, were soon over and he was quick to seek reconciliation. I suspect his anger may have frightened him a little. I know that it frightened me a lot. Indeed such a marked effect did it have on me that I have retained a great fear of angry people to this day. I am sure, however, that he was all too aware of his faults, even if, like most of us, unable to do much about them.

I have often wondered since, quite unresentfully, what the effect is of such a moody and unpredictable father on a sensitive young child (for I must suppose myself to have been one). I should imagine the consequences to be incalculable. Still I would not change my upbringing. For I think, too, that a happy, well-adjusted father would have his own effect, equal if different, and who could be sure of his proving to be in every way a greater good?

The top photograph looks over the Sound of Mull towards Ardnamurchan, with Sanna hidden in the mists on the point.

The lower photograph is of Corran Narrows looking towards Loch Linnhe. Here, you catch the ferry for Ardgour, Sunart and Ardnamurchan: Once across one was in the echt Highlands. The road turns west ... or the best part of it does; if not yet within sight of the Hebrides, the heart of Gaeldom on earth, one is at least within reach of their spell. To go on is to be protected and fed; if one is lucky enough and receptive enough, touched with goodness.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

David's rant about fat and cornstarch

Reading the labels on industrially processed "food" is the most powerful thing you can do for a healthier life. It's something I often rant about. Here's part of someone else's rant on the same themes ... step forward David Lebovitz!

Please stop using that phrase "Fat is flavor"

Espresso, ground cinnamon, marshmallows, red wine, maple syrup, fresh ginger, Ranch Gordo beans, arugula, soy sauce, cranberries, Ch√Ęteau Yquem, Concord grapes and sea salt are delicious and absolutely loaded with flavor. Yet they have zero or just very trace amounts of fat.

Fat is not a hero nor is it a villain.

But if you think fat equals flavor, eat a spatula-full of Crisco vegetable shortening and let me know how it tastes.

If you're worried about eating high-fructose corn syrup, then don't eat it. Simply stop buying processed foods and eating fast-foods

Now...Isn't that easy?

Let's face it; the people making bottled salad dressings with all that junk in it don't really care to change their formula. And if you're interested in healthy eating, don't buy processed foods.

Read the labels. Don't eat items like Hot Pockets, sweetened yogurt and frozen pizzas that contain corn syrup. It's all there on the label.

The big food companies will respond to consumers since their sole goal is to make money: If people stop giving them money and buying that stuff, they will stop making it. If you're worried about corn syrup in foods, read the labels (or visit their website) which list the ingredients. Then put those items back on the shelf if they have products in them that you don't want to eat. Write a letter to the company and let them know why you made that decision.

And yes, no matter what your economic means, you can make your own cornstarch-free foods, like homemade powdered sugar by whizzing regular sugar in a food processor. Or grind it in your mortar and pestle, a tool which the least-affluent people in the world use for cooking.

Creamed parsnip

Years ago, my friend Susan gave us the most delicious parsnip dish to go with a Sunday roast. It's Jane Grigson, she said airily, as good English cooks often do. I went home and consulted JG's Vegetable Book; Susan's creamed parsnip has been a family favourite ever since. And no wonder: parsnips, butter, cream. The parboiled parsnips are turned in butter over a very slow heat, and when they've absorbed the butteriness - in other words cooked down to a mush - you add a little cream, perhaps some nutmeg or a few chopped herbs.

I haven't cooked this for three years, and I still miss it. So yesterday, I thought I'd try a healthy version ... amazingly, I got it right first time: this will be on our table at least once a week this winter.

Creamed parsnips

Olive oil
0% fromage frais or Greek yoghurt

Trim the parsnips, and core them if necessary (the core doesn't normally turn woody until much later in the season). Grate them - I did this instantly in the Magimix, but otherwise a Microplane would make short work of it. Put them in a shallow pan and sprinkle on a little olive oil. Mix it in with your hands. Cook to a mush on a very slow heat - my panful of five parsnips took about 45 minutes. Stir in a little fromage frais or yoghurt.

This is a rare dish I'd need to season with salt - because I've always made it with salted butter.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Braised red cabbage

I'm having a bit of a cook-up this morning, finishing up what's in the fridge, and getting ahead for the busy days to come. One of the things I am making is a good supply of braised red cabbage for the freezer. I'm making it plain, so that I can change the flavourings when I come to reheat it. At that point I might add apples, or redcurrant jelly, or quince jelly, or lots of onions, or spices - say, cloves, star anise, cinnamon.

Braised red cabbage

Shred one red cabbage. I used the slicing blade on my Magimix for an instant result, but I have done it with a knife in the past, it doesn't take long. Put it in a large shallow pan with a close-fitting lid. Add wine vinegar and water in the ratio 1:2, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan - don't go mad here, better to put in too little and have to add to it, otherwise you'll have to boil off the excess liquid. Sprinkle on sugar and salt, in the ratio 2:1. Don't worry too much about the exact amounts, you'll be able to correct the seasonings when you reheat the cabbage. Mix well. Cover, and cook very slowly on a low heat ... start checking after 30-40 minutes, but it might well take over an hour.

When it's cool, decant into freezer containers, label, and freeze. I would aim to put one cabbage into four containers, and mark it accordingly (1/4 large red cabbage, etc). It might mean thawing two at once, but there's more flexibility, and, anyway, smaller containers are easier to thaw.

To use:

Thaw in the fridge, ie slowly. Tip the cabbage into a saucepan or lidded casserole, and add your chosen seasoning - about a tablespoon of jelly or a couple of cloves per quarter of cabbage, but you need to start tasting once it gets warm. You'll almost certainly find there's plenty of liquid in the bottom of the pan, but, if not, add a little water, perhaps some vinegar. Reheat gently, either over a low heat or in the oven with your main course. Either way, it needs about half an hour.

This is a really useful dish to have in the freezer
for the winter holidays - it goes so well with wintery dishes such as roast meat, stews, bean casseroles. We eat red cabbage in quite small quantities, so never manage to eat a whole one in one week, even if it is the smallest one in the shop. The "other half" used to moulder away in the bottom of my fridge, reproaching me, until I realised how well red cabbage freezes. I always do this now.

I'm sending this to Michelle at The Accidental Scientist for this month's Heart of the Matter - holiday food. It's not the most exciting holiday dish, but it is a treat of sorts - a treat for the cook, who knows it's one more chore done, if that doesn't sound too organised.

Heart of the Matter, for those of you that haven't found it yet, is a website for heart-healthy recipes, built up month by month ... the kind of resource I wish had been around after my husband had a heart attack. Anyone can contribute - this month the theme is holiday food.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Roasted red onions

An honest laborious countryman, with good bread, salt, and a little parsley, will make a contented meal with a roasted onion
. John Evelyn 1620-1706

This morning the BBC news website carried a story about the good effects of eating onions, and it reminded me that it's a long time since we've eaten onions as a separate vegetable ... it's not something I think of in the summer. I thought I'd try a new method, using Skye Gingell's book A Year in my Kitchen.

I've read this book, and it's full of original ideas, good ones. Her restaurant at Petersham Nurseries is widely praised. I've been puzzled as to why this book hasn't had much impact, and now I know ... the recipes don't work. Or at least, this one didn't. It's the same old problem of catering cooks not being able to scale down to the domestic kitchen.

I rescued it, and it was delicious, but I'd do it differently next time. Here's the recipe as printed:

Roasted red onions

5 medium red onions, peeled
100g caster sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200 ml balsamic vinegar
50 ml extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C. Slice the onions into pinwheels, about 3mm thick, and spread out on a baking tray. Sprinkle with the sugar and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Pour over the balsamic vinegar and olive oil and mix together lightly with your hands. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes or so, turning them (with tongs or a wooden spoon) and basting half way through cooking. When the onions are ready, they should be deep purple in colour and glistening, tasting sweet and sharp at the same time.

The trouble is that they're not cooked after 30 minutes. And there's too much liquid, which hasn't begun to reduce down. I gave mine nearly an hour, and even then I had to reduce the liquid hard for several minutes. Then it was delicious. Only there was far too much sugar. 50g max next time. Oh yes, and I realised after I'd got past the point of no return that I only had about 60ml balsamic vinegar, so I topped it up with some dry sherry. I can't think how black it would have been if I hadn't cut the vinegar.

Lucius liked this a lot, so I will tinker with it a little. And treat other recipes in Skye Gyngell's book with a great deal of caution.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Free Rice game

Just in case you thought this morning's post was too serious, here's a game you can play - and whenever you get it right, 10 grains of rice will be distributed through the UN. It's paid for by the advertisers on the site, and the idea is to improve people's English as well as alleviate hunger. It's called Free Rice, and it's horribly addictive.

Thanks to Culinate.

Keeping it real: What the World Eats

This morning we're all worrying about the new report issued yesterday by the World Cancer Research Fund ... but we're the lucky ones, lucky enough to worry about what we're eating, rather than whether we're eating at all.

Peter Menzel's book, Hungry Planet, shows what the world eats: 30 families on 24 continents photographed with a week's worth of food. It's sobering: ... how little some people have to survive on ... how much the developed world depends on industrially processed food ... how much more appetising the Far / Middle Eastern and Sicilian diet looked than all the others ... & to see the global reach of the Coca Cola Corporation.

I'm grateful to my new friend Joanna - yes, another one - at My Vegetable Blog for providing me with the link to Peter Menzel's work.