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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Onion, bacon and potato hotpot revisited

Supper. An hour to go, and no idea what to cook. There were some bacon pieces in the fridge that needed eating up, lots of potatoes and onions in the larder. Thyme in the garden. Plenty of milk. Just not the 15-minutes-to-prepare plus two-hours-to-cook for my delicious onion bacon and potato hotpot. So here it is again, speeded up: 20 minutes to prepare, but now half an hour max to cook, just heat the oven up as high as you dare for really fast food.

Quicker onion bacon and potato hotpot

Salad potatoes
Sliced onions (or you could use a can of Eazy onions)
Some chopped bacon
White sauce (flavour with nutmeg if you like)
Finely chopped thyme

You need to start several cooking processes at once. Put water on to boil in a saucepan big enough to take your potatoes. Start to make your bechamel sauce. Slice onions (you need a similar quantity of onions and potatoes for this), and put them in a large pan on a low heat to start cooking in a little oil. Add the bacon just before your potatoes are ready to drain. Put the whole potatoes into the boiling water, and cook until they are not quite ready.

Drain the potatoes, slice them, and layer with onions thyme and bacon. Pour the white sauce over the top, drizzle with a little oil, and put into a hot oven (200C) for half an hour. Or hotter if you want it quicker - but keep a sharp eye on it.

Good with a salad.

Very good cold the next day. Or reheated (then you can cut it into restaurant-y rings) - say, half an hour in a moderate oven (180C).

Related links

Potatoes with sweet onion, ginger and saffron
Duck and delicious potatoes
Onion bacon and potato hotpot

Lazy beef stew with Eazy onions

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fougassse and breadsticks

Making fougasse and breadsticks is quick, easy, and deliciously life-enhancing. You can use your usual dough recipe. I use my bread machine to mix up dough for flatbreads. Everyone here is particularly keen on breadsticks, twisted with flavourings, perhaps a little cheese, some seeds, or a few chopped olives. And I like making fougasse because I live in hope that one day I will make one that doesn't look as if it was made by a child.

I got a masterclass in this type of baking from Richard Bertinet just before Christmas. But, try as I may, my handmade bread dough is too variable to be our staple, so I make the dough in my Panasonic bread machine, rather than using his slap and fold method.

Step 1: making the dough

If I'm in a hurry and I don't need much dough, I use the pizza setting (45 minutes), with 1/2 tsp dried yeast, 300g strong white flour, a slug of olive oil, a large pinch of salt, and 170ml water.

If there's more time, I use the basic/dough setting, with 1 tsp dried yeast, 550g strong white flour, a pinch of sugar, two pinches of salt, two slugs of olive oil, and 320ml water. This takes a couple of hours.

Richard Bertinet's hand made dough (don't knead it, slap and fold) is made with 10g fresh yeast (ask for it at the bakery in Tesco, they really do give it to you), 500g strong white flour, 10g salt, 350g water (which is 350ml, but bakers like to be accurate, and you get better accuracy by weighing rather than measuring liquids). He says that you should know your basic recipe by heart. And he's right. But I don't.

Step 2: shaping the dough - fougasse

You should get a couple of fougasse from the smaller quantity of dough, although I usually make one, and then use the rest for breadsticks. Divide the dough into manageable quantities. Flatten it and slash it through. Don't go for anything too complicated, because smaller slashes will close in the oven. Open up the holes. Experiment: dough is pretty forgiving, and it all tastes wonderful, however rustic it looks. I seem to be the only one who sees primary school art: everyone else sees delicious bread.

RB has a lovely shape, shown on the cover of his book Dough (which has just come out in paperback). This is made by cutting the dough into a triangle, making a long slash from point to base, then making two or three smaller cuts on either side at 45 degrees and pointing upwards. If you see what I mean. The book comes with a DVD, not surprisingly.

Bake in a very hot oven: heat it to 240C, and turn it down to 230C when you put the fougasse in. You need the dough to cook on a hot upturned shelf (you really don't need an expensive stone to get a good result), so you throw it into your oven using a peel. This doesn't have to be a fancy/expensive wooden thing; I use cheap old Tesco flat metal trays which I have had for years - and Richard Bertinet uses exactly the same ones in his cookery school.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a rack. OR part bake for 6-7 minutes, cool, freeze in bags, then reheat from frozen at 200C for 10 minutes.

Step 2: shaping the dough - twisted breadsticks

Flatten the dough into a rectangle. Sprinkle on any flavouring you are using (grated parmesan last night), fold over and flatten. Cut into strips. Braid two strips together to make a twist. Cover with a tea cloth and leave to prove for 10-20 minutes. Bake as for fougasse.

This is my entry for Bread Baking Day 7: flatbreads, hosted this month by Petra at Chili und Ciabatta ... the deadline isn't until Saturday, so you've still got time to take part. Round-up next week.

Butter beans with lemon and maple syrup

I don't like butter beans. That is to say, I didn't until last night. Now I'm just off to the supermarket to buy some more. This is SO good. Easy, too, if not exactly quick (although it'll take up about two minutes of your time).

Braised butter beans

You need a handful of beans per person. Soak them in plenty of cold water. Recipes always say to soak them overnight, but you'll find if you've failed to think ahead (as I did) that they don't need that long. I put mine on to soak just before lunch, and began to cook them six hours later. As you can just about see from the photograph below, they were swollen enough to burst their skins, beautifully wrinkled.

Change the water, then cook them until they are soft (boil them hard for a few minutes, then simmer). How long this takes will depend on how old the beans are, and whether or not you are using a pressure cooker. Mine took about an hour in an ordinary pan, and I topped up the water twice.

When they are soft, turn up the heat and drive off most of the liquid. Add the zest and juice of a lemon, a slug of maple syrup, a little hot mustard powder (Colman's ... my box is several years old, but is still seriously hot). Mix well. Then stir in some chopped greenery - parsley or coriander for choice, but the only thing I had was rocket, and it was good.

Next time, I'm going to add sweet roasted garlic puree, but I keep forgetting to buy garlic, and it's a while since any came in the veg box.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mount Athos pilaf rice

I was going to cook the Mount Athos pilaf rice yesterday, but discovered there were no eggs in the house. This recipe is subtly different from other rice and pea dishes, particularly in the treatment of the egg.

It comes from The Observer/Guardian's two-part booklet about the diet eaten by the Mount Athos monks, who, it's said, have very low rates of heart disease and cancers. The information in the booklets came from The Cuisine of Mount Athos, by Brother Epifanios, published in Greek by Synchroni Orizontes Publications. Judging from the interest I've had in these recipes, it's time for an English edition.

Peas with pilaf rice
for 8

1kg peas (frozen is fine)
200g rice
3 finely chopped onions
olive oil
an egg yolk

Blanch the peas. Leave in the colander. Gently fry the onions in olive oil in a large pan. Add the peas and rice. Stir. Cover with water (1:1.5). Add the egg yolk, salt and pepper, then turn up the heat until the mixture boils. Then simmer gently until the liquid has evaporated (about 15 minutes).

Related links

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Crispy duck

I'm a little embarrassed by the size of the EASY tag in my Technorati tag cloud ... it's almost as if I don't like cooking. No, the truth is that I don't like food that's too mucked about, I don't care to muck about with food, and I'm not into prissy presentation. I do a lot of cooking, I love it, but there are other things to do too.

This one's easy. Delicious. It's from Nigella Express, but you need to mess with it a little, because some of her instructions don't work. No need for fancy presentation - just put it on your largest serving dish, and plonk it on the table. Mmm

You can tell Nigella had trouble with this recipe: she gives two versions - the first takes five and a half hours in a slow oven, the second is speeded up a little. Nice to know that even tv cooks get their timings wrong. But actually, it only needs four hours. Apart from thinking ahead, the cook has nothing to do other than put the duck in the oven.

Duck is a fatty meat. This slow-cooking renders the fat out of the bird, taking with it some of the richness. You need the fruitiness of the plum sauce (Europeans use orange for a similar effect), the crunch of cucumber, and the tang of onions. All the spring onions in the shops at the moment are grown in places like Egypt and Morocco, and I can only imagine that they are air-freighted as they don't have a long shelf-life. So I used the greens sprouting from a couple of onions at the bottom of my allium basket. Finely chopped shallot would probably do just as well.

The rendered fat went to the dogs and cats, spread over several days. I made a strong stock with the giblets, so we had a very good risotto last night - and the dogs got the cooked giblets.

Crispy duck
for 4-6

1 duck
cucumber sticks
spring onions, slivered
Hoisin sauce in a jar
Chinese pancakes - allow 3 or 4 each

Preheat the oven to 170C

Cut off the fatty flap which hangs over the cavity. Put the bird on a rack in a deep roasting tin. Roast for four hours. That's it.

There's no need to give it a half-hour burst of heat at the end, as Nigella suggests in the speeded-up version, nor is there any need to roast the bird at the low heat for five and a half hours. It was definitely ready after four hours, but didn't look as if it would have spoilt with another hour in the oven.

Shred the duck with a fork onto a large hot serving dish, and put on the table alongside pancakes, saladings and Hoisin, letting everyone roll their own. Fabulous for a party ... just add another bird or two.

Related posts

Duck and delicious potatoes
Chairman Mao's braised red pork
Chairman Mao's braised red pork revisited
Char sui and noodles

Monday, February 25, 2008

True Food Co-op: healthy salad recipes - houmous

This morning I took over as tutor for the Reading True Food Co-op's healthy cooking course ... the members of my class are all young mums with babies in the creche round the corner, and toddlers at playgroup down the road. We made salads: houmous, Waldorf salad, tuna and white bean salad, and a couscous salad. Pretty standard stuff, you might think - I certainly did until mid-morning when I discovered that none of my students had ever heard of houmous, let alone tasted it, and three of them had never tasted celery before. The great thing was that they all liked both.

Here's the houmous recipe we used - it's got less tahini than my usual mix, so it's a good one to start with.


400g can chickpeas
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp tahini paste
3 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon
2 tbsp water

Squeeze the juice (pick out the pips). Put everything together in a processor and blend until smooth.

We garnished ours with a little paprika, as thinking about presentation is a feature of the course.

The photograph shows the view from my kitchen window when I came downstairs and drew the curtains open this morning.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Varsity match dinner at Lord's

Yesterday we went to Lord's for the Oxford and Cambridge Tennis Match. Cambridge won the (real/royal) tennis (boo), Oxford won the speeches (yay). The long-standing Cambridge postgrad blues (one man has 14 tennis blues, another nine) have played their last varsity match; next year the competition looks as if it may be more interesting (the Oxford team are currently all undergraduates).

The catering, however, was magnificent. Lunch was a rolling buffet for players and spectators. Ham, pate, salmon on rye, an asparagus tart, with good salads: the coleslaw was jewelled with red cabbage. Two potato salads, Lucius was in heaven. Puddings changed all afternoon; we were fortunate enough to arrive at the treacle tart moment - unusually these days, it was made with a measure of treacle as well as golden syrup, the tart dark enough to be mistaken for chocolate by some ... but much, much better - chewy gooey and with a dash of lemon zest.

Dinner was in the Long Room, one of those hallowed spots I never thought I would ever visit (remember the fuss when Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, the England women's captain, was denied the courtesy of MCC membership?). These days, however, women are welcomed (although I seem to remember that the MCC only capitulated when threatened with loss of public funding). There were over 200 of us, so I wouldn't have been surprised if dinner didn't live up to the glories of a well-produced simple lunch. But it did.

Smoked Scottish Salmon with potato and chive pancake, creme fraiche, sorrel and a quail's egg

So pretty: the salmon & creme fraiche was in a cross-cut pinwheel about 7 layers thick, covering the pancake, decorated with finely shredded sorrel and egg halves.

Rump of lamb with puy lentils, button onions, Dauphinoise potatoes and baby leeks

Again, beautifully presented. We couldn't really have had any other sort of potatoes, it was the French Dauphin who insulted Henry V with his gift of tennis balls, a scene recreated by Shakespeare:

"Enter Ambassadors of France

Now are we well prepared to know the pleasure
Of our fair cousin Dauphin; for we hear
Your greeting is from him, not from the king.


May't please your majesty to give us leave
Freely to render what we have in charge;
Or shall we sparingly show you far off
The Dauphin's meaning and our embassy?


We are no tyrant, but a Christian king;
Unto whose grace our passion is as subject
As are our wretches fetter'd in our prisons:
Therefore with frank and with uncurbed plainness
Tell us the Dauphin's mind.


Thus, then, in few.
Your highness, lately sending into France,
Did claim some certain dukedoms, in the right
Of your great predecessor, King Edward the Third.
In answer of which claim, the prince our master
Says that you savour too much of your youth,
And bids you be advised there's nought in France
That can be with a nimble galliard won;
You cannot revel into dukedoms there.
He therefore sends you, meeter for your spirit,
This tun of treasure; and, in lieu of this,
Desires you let the dukedoms that you claim
Hear no more of you. This the Dauphin speaks.


What treasure, uncle?


Tennis-balls, my liege.


We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have march'd our rackets to these balls,
We will, in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturb'd
With chaces. And we understand him well,
How he comes o'er us with our wilder days,
Not measuring what use we made of them.
We never valued this poor seat of England;
And therefore, living hence, did give ourself
To barbarous licence; as 'tis ever common
That men are merriest when they are from home.
But tell the Dauphin I will keep my state,
Be like a king and show my sail of greatness
When I do rouse me in my throne of France:
For that I have laid by my majesty
And plodded like a man for working-days,
But I will rise there with so full a glory
That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us.
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turn'd his balls to gun-stones; and his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them: for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin's scorn.
But this lies all within the will of God,
To whom I do appeal; and in whose name
Tell you the Dauphin I am coming on,
To venge me as I may and to put forth
My rightful hand in a well-hallow'd cause.
So get you hence in peace; and tell the Dauphin
His jest will savour but of shallow wit,
When thousands weep more than did laugh at it.
Convey them with safe conduct. Fare you well.

Exeunt Ambassadors


This was a merry message.


We hope to make the sender blush at it.
Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour
That may give furtherance to our expedition;
For we have now no thought in us but France,
Save those to God, that run before our business.
Therefore let our proportions for these wars
Be soon collected and all things thought upon
That may with reasonable swiftness add
More feathers to our wings; for, God before,
We'll chide this Dauphin at his father's door.
Therefore let every man now task his thought,
That this fair action may on foot be brought.

Exeunt. Flourish "

The King's speech is littered with punning references to tennis, none of which I understood when I studied Henry V at school, and which only begin to dawn on me now, after watching my husband and son play countless times. In view of Shakespeare's splendid enactment of the England/France rivalry, you will not be surprised at the keen interest many took throughout dinner in the progress of the France-England rugger match (England won, 13-24, whooppeeeee).

Glazed lemon tart with vanilla ice-cream

Two puds in one day; I rarely eat pudding, and to be given my two very favourites ... well, how lucky am I?

Better luck next year, Oxford.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chickpea patties from Mount Athos

There haven't been many photographs here lately ... this is what the famous Mount Athos chickpea patties look like ... I've been eating them all week. Really really good. Just don't put in all the flour.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Lia at Swirling Notions

Related links

Mount Athos diet / chickpea patties
Mount Athos chickpea patties, an update
Chickpea mash
Nohutlu pilav

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lemon drizzle cake

It's Dick's birthday, and we're off to celebrate. I'm taking him various little presents: snowdrops from the garden, a pot of chilli jam, a kit for growing mushrooms in an old paperback book (he's a bookseller, amongst other things), and a lemon drizzle cake because DD says she can't bake.

This is the recipe:

125g Flora (or butter)
175g caster sugar
2 eggs
zest of a lemon
175g self-raising flour
4 tbsp skimmed milk

and a syrup made with
100g icing sugar (ie 4 heaped tbsp)
and the juice of 1-2 lemons (4tbsp)

Grease and line a large loaf tin (I use the all-in-one liners which you can lift out; this has the advantage that you don't have to bother greasing the tin). Preheat the oven to 180C.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the zest and eggs, beat again, then add the flour. Then the milk. Pour this into the tin, and bake for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the sugar in the juice and set aside. When the cake is cooked (use the skewer test), prick it all over and slowly pour the syrup onto the cake. It would rather slide down the edges than go in the holes, so you need to do this fairly slowly to make sure that there's plenty of syrup in the middle of the cake.

Don't try to remove this from the tin until it's completely cold.

Freezes well. Good for cricket teas.

Mount Athos chickpea patties, an update

First, a warm welcome to those of you who have found their way to this blog via a search for the Mount Athos diet. I hope that you will find other things of interest in this blog.

Quick update: I made the Mount Athos chickpea patties last night, the only change being that I found there was no garlic in the house (how could I let that happen??). If you are making them, I would suggest that you halve the flour, there's FAR too much, and it makes them heavy. Also the recipe doesn't specify what type of flour; I used white, which I rather think the monks don't.

Apart from that, they are DELICIOUS, lovely and green, flecked with gold on their crusty edges. I'll be posting the other recipes in the coming few days.

Related links

Mount Athos diet / chickpea patties
Chickpea mash
Nohutlu pilav

Lunar eclipse

Last night, around 3am, there was a lunar eclipse. I'm always keen to see the moon in her full glory, without the light of the sun. I set my alarm and staggered blearily out of bed, looked out of the window, and went straight back to bed. Scuppered by the weather, as so often for British skywatchers. Sad, because a lunar eclipse is - I think - the most beautiful of celestial events, surpassing even the showy fireworks of a solar eclipse, and there won't be another visible from my garden until 2015. The last lunar eclipse here, nearly a year ago, was notably reddish, utterly beautiful.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Food blogging: mad, or what?

The conversation turned to food. Alfred (15) said you're mad, mum, when it comes to food. Indignant noises from cooker (I'm not the only one, loads of people are trying to do their best to feed their families as well as they can, blah blah blah). Yes you are, who else would photograph their salad instead of getting on and eating it? Wherever you are, you probably heard his roars of laughter when I replied: I haven't taken a food photograph for days.

He's in the kitchen now, creating a bacon sandwich. He's sent me off to look up a better tomato sauce for his pizza than the one he made yesterday for his lunch (A Year in Bread). He's planning to make a Chinese dinner for us all later this week, even though he's never done that before, just because he likes the taste of it. A chip off the old block? Not, perhaps, as sane as he thinks he is?

No photograph. I wouldn't want you all to think I was mad.

Related links

Pizza for lunch
White pizzas with fennel seeds
Processed foods: some nutritional info

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mount Athos diet / chickpea patties

This weekend the papers were full of food: Delia's new book, full of so-what-? recipes, appeared in at least two. Out of the Guardian/Observer fell two little booklets about the food and diet of the monks at Mount Athos, "the world's healthiest people" - men who fast 200 days of the year, who eat a home-grown, home-made version of the Mediterranean diet, two meals a day, red wine for breakfast. Everyone stops eating when the bell rings - it's rung when the ringer judges the eating to have slowed down, so no-one eats too much (and visitors, it emerges, are likely not to eat enough, at least for the first couple of meals).

I don't like faddish diets, so I'm wary. Five recipes were given, taken from a book in Greek: artichokes with potatoes, peas with pilaf rice, chickpea patties, fish soup, and cuttlefish with rice. Good, wholesome, simple food, easily adaptable to a Western kitchen. Here's one, I haven't made it yet, but I don't want to lose it in the welter of paper here.

Chickpea patties
for 4-5

300g tinned chickpeas
3 cloves garlic
1 chopped onion
1 handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds
100g flour
one beaten egg
olive oil for frying

The monks do this with a knife and a pestle, but we are going to use a Magimix. Blitz the chickpeas with the garlic, onion, parsley, cumin and flour. Pepper but probably not salt. Tip into a bowl and add the egg. Mix into a dough, then rest in the fridge for 10 minutes (more?).

Shape the patties; you want them to be quite thin. Heat the oil, and fry them gently - the heat needs to be low enough to be cooked inside before they brown.


Related links

Chickpea mash
Nohutlu pilav

PS Despite an extensive search, I couldn't find these little booklets on the Observer website, but here's a link to an article by William Sitwell about Mount Athos itself.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Simplifying a roast beef dinner

For all my married life and longer, I have read The Spectator every week. The political articles are good, the book pages are better, and the home life columns used to be the best, but, alas, some of the columnists are no longer with us, and, recently, editors seem to have deemed home life to be of little interest. One of my favourites was Jennifer Paterson, the Spectator's cook, who wrote a cookery column like no other, and later became a TV cook, one of the Two Fat Ladies (the one with the motorcycle).

She lived for the moment, and didn't go in for journalistic tricks, so she didn't bother to anticipate an occasion which would crop up in the lifetime of the magazine (thus no dinky ideas for Valentine dinners), and she certainly didn't give Delia-ish instructions for Christmas cookery. She cooked no-nonsense food, and made it clear that, although decent food was important to her, she had other interests - for instance, she was very hot on obscure saints. This is a typical example of the sort of writing you'd get:

I am so unnerved by the announcement that a bird-eating tarantula has given birth to 700 babies in London Zoo that my mind has glazed over and I can think of nothing else. What about next year when all those babies do the same thing? They are bound to get out or be let out by anti-something or other people, and life will be far more dangerous than having attacks of lysteria hysteria. Any spider that can eat a bird is worthy of a lot of terror. However, on we must go.

JP's novel method for roasting beef first surfaced in the Spectator in 1987, and I remember thinking it was an interesting idea, although I never did anything about it. Years later, I bought a copy of her collected Spectator columns, and there it was. Again, I did nothing about it. Now that I have - for Lucius's birthday celebration last night - I cannot think why I let all that time ... TWO DECADES ... go by without roasting beef in this markedly effective and simple way.

Here is help for anyone unnerved by the last-minute titivation required for a roast dinner; for those with one oven; for those who like a simple life; for those who wish to talk to their dinner guests; for those who like to prepare ahead.

What is this wonderful recipe? You cook the beef up to 24 hours in advance, keep it out of the fridge, and serve it on the hottest of hot plates with the hottest of hot gravy (which you can now also make ahead). Astonishingly, it is just as if you had cooked and rested it in the more usual manner. She says it also works with lamb.

Yesterday was busy: visit to the butcher, young to fetch from the station at various times, tea for a neighbour, a four-course dinner to prepare, an early-evening real tennis match to watch. The perfect opportunity to use this method. I cooked the beef at tea-time. While Lucius and I were out watching Horatio play his semi-final match (he won, although he nearly threw it away), Lettice made gravy and roasted potatoes. We have only one oven, and this method meant that it could be at the perfect temperature for both meat and potatoes (normally it's a bit of a fudge).

I can do no better than let the lady herself explain the details:

I have discovered that if you are going to have some roast beef or lamb for some meal there is no need to do it just in time. I do it the night before, thus obviating all that last-minute sweating over the oven and leaving nasty greasy oven pans in the sink when you need them most. It doesn't matter whether you are serving the meat as a hot repast or a cold one, the meat will taste much better, having saved all its juices within rather than pouring them out on the carving board. It will be easier to carve and the leftovers will be as good as the original. There is nothing more depressing than the sight of an old joint that has been carved when hot then left to grow sad and grey in the larder. If you are intending to serve it cold, well and good. If hot just pretend it is. Served on hot plates with the accompanying hot vegetables and gravy made from the deglazing of the oven pan (also done the night before and kept up your sleeve) no one will notice. When you consider that a hot joint should have 'rested' 20 minutes before serving and then all the time taken in carving and serving, the actual meat is never all that hot anyway.

These are the instructions for roasting the beef (although you can perfectly well use your own usual method):

Put the meat on a grid over a pan. Smear with oil if you like (I don't bother). 250C for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 185C, and roast for 15 minutes per pound. I no longer cook in imperial, so my 2.3kg (ie 5lb) sirloin got 15 minutes at the higher temperature, then one hour at the lower. Perfect, pink.

If you are roasting lamb: Use the above instructions, and add a further 15 minutes at the end (ie at the lower temperature), for a rosy finish.

Really really worth a go. So long as your plates are very hot (and therefore not made of pottery, which will crackle). Amazingly, it works. Just don't put it in the fridge once you've cooked it.

The full menu, decided by the birthday boy (our family tradition):

one baked scallop (each!)
roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, peas, and gravy
apple crumble

Related links

Fillet of beef
Birthday celebrations last year (v similar menu)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Grilled trout with rosemary stuffing

Cooking with decent ingredients means that you don't want to waste them, however lowly they may seem to be. Something that has crept up on me is finding ways of using up every last crumb of the bread I bake. It's the sort of thrift I was brought up to, but which doesn't work if you're eating Mother's Pride.

At the fish counter yesterday, I was very aware of Ed Bruske's gentle admonishment:

I love monkfish. However, I've stopped buying it because it is listed as "avoid" by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Seafood Watch" program. At least in the Atlantic off the U.S. coast, monkfish (a bottom feeder that used to be thrown overboard as trash) has been overfished. Also, the means of catching it usually involves trawling, which seriously damages the ocean floor. I wonder how your British stocks are doing.

Well, this information turns out to be very hard to access. The Marine Conservation Society has just redesigned its website, but not enough to make it easy to find the information most people would want: a list of fish that's best to eat, another of endangered fish that should be avoided. It wasn't obvious, either, where they keep the search facility they've opted for instead (why not BOTH?); you need to have heard of their sister organisation FishOnline. The search facility is not entirely straightforward to use, and I had to track back to find out what the numbers meant (is a high number good? or bad?). And all the time, a disembodied voice kept saying, I'm Kate Humble and .... I HATE websites that noise at you without your say-so. It shouldn't take an hour to find this information, and I STILL don't have any clear idea about any other species than monkfish (don't eat it).

No longer on auto-pilot, I found three fat brown trout, speckled just exactly as if they'd been caught in the burn that ran past the home field of my grandfather's Fife farm. (And, yes, I do know that there are problems with farmed fish, but you've got to start somewhere, and yesterday, I was saving the monkfish.) When I bought them, I thought I'd cook them in the Scots manner, dipped in egg and oatmeal. But then I started browsing the recipe books ...

I rejected Michael Smith's recipe (in his excellent Fine English Cookery) for trout and almonds; there was the faint reminder of dour restaurant meals taken on the last night of the school holidays before incarceration (that really is the right word) at my isolated Dorset convent boarding school. Instead, I chose grilled trout with herb stuffing from Ann and Franco Taruschio's Leaves from the Walnut Tree.

I've only recently acquired this seminal book, and this is the first thing I've cooked from it. The Taruschios ran The Walnut Tree at Llandewi Skirrid from 1963 to 2001; it was Elizabeth David's favourite British restaurant; Jan Morris says she would happily go there for a plate of scrambled eggs. The subtitle of their book tells you everything you need to know: Recipes of a Lifetime.

Here's Jan Morris's description of Franco Taruschio's cooking: With herbs from the garden behind the pub, fruits and vegetables from local growers, fish and meat from a supplier down the road, the victuals at The Walnut Tree are, like the restaurant itself, a fascinating blend of the worldly and the simple, the plain organic and the exquisitely invented. This way of cooking is exactly of the moment: the Taruschio's - like, say, Alice Waters - are trailblazers.

This stuffing is a very good example: it's similar to the sort of thing my grandmother might have made to stuff a trout, but she wouldn't have used chilli flakes (even though she was a daughter of the Raj, and knew all about curry). It can be put together in moments - but is only worth making with really good bread. And if you habitually keep or make really good bread, then you'll be on the lookout for recipes which use up the last crumbs. This is one of the best I've found.

Grilled trout with rosemary
for 3-4

3-4 prepared whole trout
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
dried chilli flakes
a lemon
olive oil

Mix the herbs and breadcrumbs. Add a pinch of chilli flakes, the zest and juice of a lemon, four tablespoons of olive oil, and pepper. Use this to stuff the fish. Lay them on an oiled grillpan, lightly oil the fish, and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Cook for four minutes under a very hot grill, then turn, drizzle with oil and lightly salt, grill for 3-4 minutes.

Other things to do with old bread

Baked scallops
Anchovy toasts

Related links

The Slow Cook, Ed Bruske's blog

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spring is not yet sprung

Friends phoned this morning to say they were passing and could they drop in for lunch. Well, the patient and I are getting a little short of conversation, so YES, come AS SOON AS YOU CAN.

These particular friends are tremendous food scavengers - we've been with them shrimping and on mushroom hunts, and you wouldn't believe how determined they are. So I went out into the garden to see if I could find anything wild. Much too dry for mushrooms. Nettle soup, I thought. The nettles are beginning to show, but there weren't quite enough for a big pot of soup. Next week, probably, if the sun keeps on shining.

So then I turned my attention to the lawn. During the summer, blink, and there's a mass of dandelions. Young dandelion leaves make very good eating, soft bitter leaves if you catch them early. Well, it's too early ... not a sign of a dandelion. I know they're lurking there, beneath the ground, but nothing so much as the tip of a leaf.

However, in the search, I found something truly lovely, and utterly unexpected: in the place where, until last summer, stood a crab apple tree - there, hardly visible, were two wild crocuses, and the tip of another. Magical.

So then I went to pick the first of this year's sorrel.

Related posts:

Nettle soup
Nettle tea - and other tips
The crab apple tree

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Polenta with mushrooms

Here's something cheap and easy to make ... you just have to get organised and start early - but that's good for calming the household, especially the cook. This is peasant food made with ingredients with a long shelf life, so once you've got them in, you're not too far away from a delicious meal. Carnivores don't feel deprived (not even my rampant meat-eaters); if you were economising, or making this for vegans, I think you could flavour the polenta with sage or rosemary rather than parmesan.

I wish I had a photograph to show you, but ... I did have one problem with the polenta: when I grilled the slices, they stuck to the grill, rather than making photogenic black stripes. Was that because this is a very lightly set mixture (much less cornmeal to water than instructed by the packet)? The grill was certainly smoking hot, and would have made stripes on a piece of meat or fish? Any advice in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

The sauce was originally conceived with fresh mushrooms, but when I went to fetch them from my veg box, I found that the little box which I thought contained mushrooms was in fact full of lovely sweet grapes. So I used dried mushrooms instead. It meant that, instead of making the entire sauce in the morning, I only got as far as sweating the onions and soaking the mushrooms. But finishing the dish only took about 10 minutes.

enough for 4, with leftovers

140g quick-cook polenta
75g parmesan
salt and pepper

Bring 1.5 litres of water to the boil in a large pan. Take it off the heat and swirl it with a wooden spoon, then slowly pour in the cornmeal, swirling all the while. Once it's smooth, put it back on the heat - gently, but even so it will bubble and spit at you (I don't generally bother to wear an apron, but for this it's not a bad idea). After about 4-5 minutes it should be thick and creamy. Add the grated parmesan (I blitzed it in the food processor, as it doesn't matter what it looks like), plenty of salt and some pepper.

Oil a large shallow dish, and pour the mixture onto it to cool. You can't do the next step until it's completely cold, so this needs to be done ahead - in the morning for supper, one evening for the following day. It's the sort of straightforward task that can be carried out alongside other cooking, and so easy to fit into a busy life.

When you are ready, cut the polenta into shapes: rounds, fingers, triangles, diamonds. Heat a grill pan if you have one, brush it with a little oil, cook the polenta for 4-5 minutes each side. If you are luckier than me, you will get black stripes. You don't need a grill to cook these: I heated some perfectly satisfactorily in a non-stick frying pan lightly sprayed with olive oil.

I've just heated up the trimmings and spread them out onto a plate; we'll have them for lunch tomorrow. And I gave some to the cats, as they were longing to try it!

Mushroom sauce

onions, one per person
dried mushrooms, a handful per person
pepper and nutmeg
a little wine if you have it

Soak a couple of handfuls of dried mushrooms in boiling water. Recipe books say 10 minutes is enough, but I find the longer you soak them the better they are: best of all if you soak them until the water is completely cold (in other words, start in the morning if you're cooking in the evening; but it's the work of moments).

Finely chop the onions. I made rings, because they are so pretty, but any shape will do. Sweat them slowly in a little oil. (You can stop at this point if you like.) Add a little white flour, I used less than a dessertspoonful for 3 onions and two handfuls of mushrooms (you want a sauce which has some body, not too runny, but not stiff). Mix well. Season with pepper and nutmeg. Drain the mushrooms (reserving the water) and add them to the pan. Stir around for a bit, then add some wine if you have it, red for preference. If you don't, no worries, just start adding the soaking water. Either way, add enough water to make a loose sauce. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the flour is cooked through.

Serve with polenta on the side, on hot plates if you remember.

And this is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging , started by Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen, and hosted this weekend by Ulrike, of Kuchenlatein

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Moro monkfish with ginger and saffron

This delicious smokily-spiced fish and potato dish would be just as good without the fish, in fact, next time, I think that's how I'll make it. And any white fish would do, rather than overpriced monkfish, as what you're after is a contrast between the white flesh and the smoky-dark sauce - both in taste and in colour.

The recipe comes from Moro East, Sam and Sam Clark's book about cooking inspired by their allotment at Manor Gardens in Hackney, East London, now, shockingly, bulldozed to make way for an Olympic footpath from carpark to stadium.

In case you're wondering how an allotment book comes up with a fish dish, I should tell you that the inspiration for Moro East came mainly from the cultural diversity of fellow allotment holders - their produce and, most importantly, their ways of cooking. Thus Moro East broadens out from the Clark's original books on the Moorish cookery of Spain.

Introducing this dish, S&S write: shut your eyes, taste, and be transported to Morocco. For me, this food evokes Sicily (the sweet note of the sultanas in a savoury dish) and Cornwall - the taste of saffron takes me right to the Penzance bakery every single time.

One of the best things about this recipe is that it's a two-step process: I made the sauce on Thursday while I was cooking supper. It was hardly any extra trouble, and made preparing dinner last night much quicker ... a huge help as I didn't get home until nearly 7 o'clock after a busy day.

Monkfish with sweet onions, ginger and saffron

for 3

Monkfish (or not)
olive oil
3 onions
2 cloves of garlic
120g sultanas
1 tsp ground ginger
a big pinch of saffron (about 30 strands)
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cinnamon
400 ml water
400g diced waxy potatoes

Slice the onions thinly into rounds, and fry gently in a lot of olive oil (S&S say 6 tbsp). Stir frequently. When the onions are just golden, add finely chopped garlic and sultanas. Cook these for about 5 minutes to give the sultanas a chance to swell up in the oil. Add the spices, warm through, then add the water. Simmer for five minutes. At this point you can stop. Or not.

Heat the oven to 230C. Pour the warmed sauce into a large roasting tin. Arrange the potatoes on top in a single layer. Cover with foil and put in the oven. Once the sauce is simmering, the potatoes will take half an hour. You therefore need to time the addition of the fish depending on its size. Here is the Moro East guide to cooking times: a large (1kg) monkfish tail will also take 30 minutes or so, and should be added as soon as the potatoes are hot; 2 smaller tails will take about 20 minutes ... portion-sized fillets or steaks will take only 10-15 minutes.

Smear your fish with oil, and a little salt if you like. Lay the fish on the potatoes, re-cover, and cook for most of its timing. About five minutes before the end, turn the fish over and finish baking uncovered.

I served this with plain couscous. S&S say that you can sprinkle the dish with orange blossom water ... which makes me think that another time, it would look and taste good with a scattering of orange zest.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

British Heart Foundation petition

Many of you who read my blog know that my husband had a heart attack a couple of years ago. Horrible. Frightening. Never over ... you live with the fear that it will happen again (just like it happened again for my mother-in-law, woken in the night to be told that her husband had died). I fear for my children.

SO .. please sign this petition. The British Heart Foundation is leading a campaign to stop junk food advertising on British television. Makes some kind of sense to me. Let's all get back to real food, if we possibly can.

And ... a good diet doesn't have to be an expensive diet. Here's a list of winter affordable superfoods ... think oatmeal, herrings, Savoy cabbage ... lots of alternatives to unpronounceable air-freigted berries with ludicrous price-tags.

But in the meantime, let's break the cycle - sign the BHF petition, to show that we all understand the negative power of food advertising.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Would you like me to give you a Nigel Slater book?

Would you like me to give you a recipe book?

I think I must have put you all off
... amazingly, not a single request for the latest Nigel Slater. I noticed piles of Eating for England in the bookshop at the weekend, but they haven't started remaindering it yet. I'm not NS's greatest fan, & this is not his best book ... but someone must want it, surely?

I've already given away two books (I got loads of requests for those), and would like to give this one away to a reader. Otherwise it's the Oxfam shop, probably on Thursday, when I go to the market.

The usual "rules" apply: just email me (joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk) and let me know why you'd like it, and I'll pick a winner, and post it off. All I'd like you to do in return is write a post about the book, linking back here. A book and a link - what's not to like?

Related posts:

Would you like me to give you a recipe book?
Real Fast Food + lentil stew
Nigel Slater's Eating for England

Related links:

The Joy of Fish

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Spiced apricot and orange chutney

Looking for marmalade, I discovered a forgotten jar of this - made in 2005, matured to perfection. It's Delia, from her Christmas book. She also uses this to make a quick sauce for roast pork, so it's quite useful for cooking ahead if you've got some spare time. I made it as a Christmas present for 2005, with the sauce recipe attached.

Spiced apricot and orange chutney

400g no-soak dried apricots
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
225g soft brown sugar
425ml cider vinegar
1 chopped onion
50g sultanas
2 tbsp grated ginger
2 chopped cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
grated zest and juice of an orange

Cut the apricot into small pieces. Temper the coriander seeds in a dry frying pan, then bash them in a mortar. Put everything together into a large stainless steel saucepan & heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer half-covered for 45 minutes or so. You want soft onions and fruit, but you don't want it too thick, and it will carry on thickening as it cools.

Spoon into sterilised jars. I generally do this by putting them through a dishwasher cycle. Or you can put them into a hottish oven until they are too hot to handle.

Spiced apricot sauce for roast pork

You make this exactly as if you were making gravy: sprinkle a little flour onto the pan juices, mix to a paste, add white wine - enough to make the sauce - bubble and reduce, stirring all the time to keep smooth. Stir in a good quantity of the chutney, also some orange zest, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the flour is cooked.

I think it would be just as good using a dash of wine and some stock.

Related posts

Braised mixed lentils
Chilli and pepper chutney
Red onion marmalade

Useful links:

Delia Smith Online
Pomiane's anti-Delia rant

Monday, February 04, 2008

Braised mixed lentils

This is what I've been living on for the past few days ... a really fabulous lentil mixture, perfumed with cinnamon, flavoured with smoked paprika, which lends the dish a trace of meatiness (it's the predominant spice in chorizo).

The recipe came from Fiona, the Cottage Smallholder, part of a three-step recipe for vegetarian moussaka. I have been meaning to make the moussaka, but there hasn't been time. I was going to make it tonight with the last helping - but YIPPEEE, I can't, because LUCIUS IS COMING HOME.

It's good hot or cold ... lunch today was a dollop of cold lentils, some spiced cabbage, a tiny bit of roasted onion which has been lurking in the fridge unnoticed for nearly a week, some fromage frais and a little of Delia's spiced apricot chutney which I made a couple of years ago and then forgot about (I'll post this excellent chutney in the next few days), sprinkled with mixed seed sprouts. Excellent combination.

Braised mixed lentils
for 6

2 cloves garlic
250g Pardana lentils
25g Puy lentils
50g red lentils
a little red wine
1 tin chopped tomatoes
stock (or water)
1/2 tsp mixed herbs
1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
one cinnamon stick
pinch of sugar

Gently fry three or four chopped onions - more if you like them (and we do). When they are soft and not quite golden, add a couple of crushed cloves of garlic and continue cooking for 2-3 more minutes. Add a good glug of red wine and bubble up. Add the tomatoes, herbs and spices, then add enough stock or water to just cover the lentils. If you are lucky, you will then remember to add the sugar, although it probably wouldn't be a disaster if you forgot. Pepper would probably be good, too.

Simmer this, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. You should end up with a fairly dry mixture, although you want a little sauce, so add more liquid if necessary.

If you are going on to make the moussaka, at this point you add 70g grated feta, 2tbsp grated parmesan, and 1-2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs. This you would then layer in a flat dish with cooked aubergine (starting and ending with aubergine), or courgette. You would top this with some kind of white sauce - a cheesy bechamel is usual, but I would use my egg and yoghurt topping (perhaps flavoured with some anchovy rather than nutmeg) - quicker, easier, lighter, tastier.

A couple of notes: Fiona says this recipe comes from Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book - I couldn't find it there, or anything like it. But I may have been in too much of a hurry, and I'll go back to it soon, because she has a very interesting section on lentils.

The other point is that - practically speaking - there's not much difference between the Pardana and the Puy lentils. By that I mean that they take about the same time to cook, and neither type disintegrates when you cook them. So you could use just one of those. But don't be tempted to leave out the red lentils, as their mush lends an important (but small) element of texture to this dish - although not, I think, enough to put off those who say they dislike the texture of lentils and dhal.

This post is for My Legume Love Affair, an event being organised by Susan, The Well Seasoned Cook.

Related posts:

Nigel Slater's lentil stew
Pasta with braised lentils
Lentil soup with ruby chard
Beetroot and lentils
Lentil salad with homemade cheese

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Rice bread

I am a creature of habit. Yesterday, making supper after getting back at about 10pm, I put rice on to cook - the same amount I would normally use for the two of us. I ate, fell into bed, and came down this morning to find the kitchen scented with basmati rice, as I had failed to wash up. The chickens will love to eat these leftovers, but I thought I'd use them up to make a rice loaf. It's in the machine now, so that it will be ready to eat when I get home.

On the other hand, not all my habits are so thoughtless. I like to get at least a little organised for supper during the morning, and these past few days have underlined the importance of this in avoiding last-minute shopping for junk foods. Yesterday morning, I spent a few minutes making a lovely lentil stew, one Fiona at Cottage Smallholder has posted about a couple of times. She says it's originally a Jane Grigson recipe, and I'll look it up when I've got a bit of time (all this driving to Oxford steals any free time there might be). It's the first part of a vegetarian mousssaka, but I didn't get that far with it. I'll post about this in the next couple of days, but in the meantime, here's the link. Delicious, quick, easy, cheap.

Sorry - once again, no photos, no time. Next week.

Rice bread

I'm making this in the machine, but it shouldn't be a problem to mix it up by hand and let it rise once or twice.

1/2 tsp easy blend yeast
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt
350g good white bread flour
115g cooked rice (dry)
1 tbp skimmed milk powder
1 egg (no need to mix this)
a glug of olive oil
180ml water

I used my basic setting, small loaf, medium crust. It'll be ready when I get home this evening.

This is adapted from Jennie Shapter's Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook which I bought in the Oxfam shop a couple of weeks ago. It's the first time I've baked from it.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A little righteous indignation ... sorry!

The BBC's got a lot to answer for. Last night, half-watching cookery programmes while fiddling around in the kitchen, I heard John Torrode on Masterchef say that parsnip and cherry made a really good sauce. Really???? How can that be? SO decadent, destructive even. We really have to get out of the habit of flying ingredients around just so's we can have an interesting sauce on our plates.

This morning, same scenario, another cookery presenter, James Martin, was explaining salade nicoise. He gave a list of correct ingredients, then: you don't have to use those, it's just a salad, you can use anything you'd usually put in a salad. Huh??? Why would it still be a salade nicoise, with different ingredients.

That's the joy of having the house to myself: tv cookery programmes with added righteous indignation - only possible on my own ... and the joy's already wearing off.

Thank you to everyone who's sent good wishes to Lucius - I've been really touched by all your concern. He's doing well after a slight problem with his drugs, and is hoping to be allowed to get out of bed today. I'm just off to see him now.