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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Food books of the decade?

The Guardian has made a list of the best food books of the decade. Interesting overview, and, of course, there's always room for a few more decent cookery books (especially if I cull some of the second-rate ones).

Some are staples here ... Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating; Michael Pollan's two food books, In Defence of Food and The Ominivore's Dilemma; Elisabeth Luard. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat is much consulted here, although I'm not so keen on Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. Like Jay Rayner (never thought I'd write that!), I'm more likely to read Moro than cook from it, and wouldn't ever bother with Heston Blumenthal's cookery books, because foam is not my thing (although I like dipping into Harold McGee, who might have started the trend for techno-cooking, or whatever it's really called).

There are a few I own, but which I haven't properly used for one reason or another. These deserve another chance: Culinary Pleasures by Nicola Humble; Salt A World History by Mark Kurlansky; The Taste of Britain, by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown.

These are the books from the list that I don't have that may be hard to resist:

  • British Regional Food by Mark Hix
  • Trifle by Helen Sabiri and Alan Davidson
  • Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen
  • Food in Early Modern England by Joan Thirsk, recommended by Tom Jaine, which makes it doubly alluring
  • The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuschia Dunlop

PS just ordered three from Amazon; two of them were cheaper than the postage, which I find irresistible, no wonder my house is so cluttered

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

We've been snowed in for most of the week, so Christmas has taken us a little by surprise ... not many decorations, not much shopping. But all the family is here, there's plenty of good homemade food, and we've had time to enjoy doing not very much. A six-foot igloo was built, and then collapsed in the night in a rainstorm before anyone had a chance to take a photograph. Lots of laughter. Happy days.

So ... a very happy and peaceful Christmas to you. xx Joanna

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brussels sprouts with caramelised garlic and lemon

We're snowed in here, so it's been a day of quiet pleasures: a walk round the wood, a little photography, some bird watching, a game of croquet in the snow, and Horatio is building an igloo which he plans to sleep in (shades of his father, for those with long memories). I had time to make a complex three-stage recipe, which in the ordinary way I wouldn't have bothered with: the most delicious brussels sprouts with caramelised garlic and crystalised lemon peel. So good that they'll be made here again and again.

Actually, this is a recipe you can make ahead: two of the three stages could easily be made the day before. And if you don't like brussels sprouts, you could leave them out and just have the caramelised garlic.

The unusual combination of flavours is the brainchild of Yotam Ottolenghi, and his recipe appeared in the Guardian on Saturday.

Best-ever brussels sprouts

4 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
caster sugar
1 lemon
600g sprouts (I used around 400g)
1 chilli, finely chopped (or a little chilli jam)

Put the garlic cloves in a pan of water and blanch for three minutes. Drain. Fry the garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil; put them on a high heat and keep turning them until they are golden. Then put in a few drops of balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, 90ml water and a pinch of salt. Simmer until there's virtually no liquid left (about five minutes).

Make julienne strips from the lemon peel (you can either use a potato peeler plus knife, or, if you've got it, one of those hole-y implements that make fine strips of zest). Put them in a small pan with a tablespoon of sugar, and the lemon juice made up to 100ml with a little water. Cook until the syrup is reduced to almost nothing (about 15 minutes).

Trim and halve the sprouts. Fry them in olive oil (in batches) at a high heat for about five minutes. Don't stir them more than once or twice, otherwise they won't char.

Stir everything together in a bowl (Ottolenghi specifies a chopped chilli, but I didn't have such a thing, so stirred in a couple of teaspoons of chilli jam). You may need to add more oil. Eat hot, or at room temperature.

PS Ottolenghi strew his dish with shaved parmesan and basil leaves, but I didn't; we don't have out-of-season basil leaves at this time of year, and the parmesan seemed to me to be over-egging the pudding. Unbelievably good without.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lemon pots

My sister brought Meyer lemons from her garden in California. It's impossible to buy a Meyer* lemon here, so it was a wonderful gift - they have a scented taste quite unlike other lemons. So, something special. But my sister's only here for a few days, and I don't want to spend them chained to the stove.

These little citrus pots take moments, although you'd never guess. They're rich, so tiny quantities - a shot glass would work well, if you don't have ramekins (which, in truth, are too big; I half-fill mine). Perfect. So there was time for a walk by the river in the snow, even though we were nine for dinner.

Lemon pots

75g sugar
300ml double cream
one lemon

In an ordinary saucepan, melt the sugar in the double cream. Add the juice of a lemon and pour into tiny pots or shot glasses. Put them in the fridge, and by the time the cream is cold, it will have set. I generally use the zest, too, because I value the sharp taste over a truly smooth appearance.

* Just before my sister arrived, David Lebovitz, who used to be Alice Waters' pastry chef at Chez Panisse, posted interestingly about Meyer lemons, with a recipe for lemon curd

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Feeding of 5k in Trafalgar Square

Lunch was an elegant protest in a flurry of snow in Trafalgar Square. Delicious fruit smoothies, vegetable curry, all the fruit you could find. Supermarket waste. And all of it would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Not even composted.

This lovely fruit made thousands of smoothies, full of goodness. Why don't supermarkets TRY selling less-than-perfect fruit, and see what happens? Why don't they give the rest to homeless charities. And COMPOST whatever's left.

They couldn't give these grapes away fast enough. No stalks, so no good to the supermarket, apparently. Daft world: I spent a few minutes earlier in the week taking grapes off their stalks to put in a sauce. But even if they don't want to sell them, they should at least PUT THEM IN THE COMPOST.

Then on to Heywood Hill to pick up a book they'd found for me; and a walk round Shepherd Market. Heywood Hill really is the most life-enhancing shop, laid out a little like a library in a private house, and full of well-chosen books, both old and new. Always lots you want to browse, some you want to buy. Nancy Mitford used to work there; now there's a helpful young man called Ben, and a bevy of girls in the room at the back.

And home, to find the house looks like this:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plums in muscovado

Breakfast this morning: yoghurt with stewed plums. Bliss. The plums were slightly past their best, but fully revived with a little muscovado sugar. So much flavour there's no need for spice. 20 minutes, covered, in a moderate oven.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fooproof Yorkshire pudding

I've never been very good at making Yorkshire pudding. Years of cooking on an Aga meant that by the time the meat was perfectly roasted, there wasn't enough heat left for the puds. Years of pudding failure = deep-seated belief that my Yorkshires would always be a flat soggy mess.

But now, I have a foolproof recipe. I first came across it when I was cooking on the Miele stand at the BBC food show; we made the batter into toad-in-the-hole. Yesterday, I made a huge ballooning effortless Yorkshire. Eggs. The secret is eggs. Lots of them. Not quite Mrs Beeton ("take 2 dozen eggs"), but I reckon this method uses at least twice the usual amount of eggs, so of course it's not going to remain pancake-flat.

I've just spent a merry morning looking up recipes for Yorkshire pudding; Hannah Glasse, Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David, Mrs Ruffell, Michael Smith ... they're all more or less agreed on two eggs to half a pint of milk and enough flour for a pouring cream consistency. But here's an interesting thing: Yorkshire pudding is merely a parsimoniously thin version of batter pudding, one of the earliest dishes in English cookery - think thick Yorkshire pudding. Truth to tell, this would be a batter pudding if you chose too small a tin.

I got a lot of complaints last night about serving this with lamb. I think it's a shame to forego something so deliciously eggy for the sake of a tradition which is almost certainly invented. Next time we'll have it with roast chicken.

This is Jane Grigson's tip about what to do if there's any left:

On roast-beef Sundays, my mother's father, who had reached heights of power and respectability in the Bank of England, forgot what was due to his position and remembered the ways of the Northumbrian farm at Old Bewick which his family had come from. The roast beef went back to the kitchen after the main course, but the Yorkshire pudding remained to be finished up with sweetened condensed milk. I do not know how my grandmother took this - she prided herself on her desserts - but my mother shared his delight in the crisp and sticky pudding. When she had a home of her own, and a family, she passed his taste on to us who only remembered him, in spats and spectacles and pin-striped trousers, from old photographs.

Foolproof Yorkshire pudding

equal quantities by volume* of:

plain flour

Mix the flour into the eggs; when there are no lumps, slowly mix in the milk. Season: you'll definitely need salt; you could add chopped herbs. Let stand for half an hour.

Heat fat in a roasting tin, pour in the batter, and roast for 20 minutes in a very hot oven (200C).

* last night I used four eggs which came to the 200ml mark in a jug (that volume of flour weighed around 100g). The tin I used measured 25cm x 35cm, and the result was a crisp and thin Yorkshire; a smaller pan would give you batter pudding with these quantities.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tasty fat-free mushrooms

Mushrooms, like aubergines, soak up oil if you give them the chance. Here's a way of locking in taste without using any fat at all.

Put equal quantities of wine* and stock** in the pan - just enough to stop your mushroom slices burning. Add a few drops of Worcester sauce, or soy sauce, or balsamic vinegar. Put the pan on a medium heat. Watch and stir. The mushrooms will exude their juices after a few minutes; turn up the heat and boil off all the liquid. Watch them carefully; they are ready when the last of the liquid evaporates. Delicious.

* red or white is fine; I sometimes use Marsala, which gives a strong flavour to the mushrooms (not great at breakfast)

** I've always got stock in the fridge, either chicken stock, or Fergus Henderson's fabulous trotter gear. If you don't go in for this sort of thing, just use bouillon

Related links

Foolproof recipe for fuss-free chicken stock
Jellied pork stock - easy to make, keeps for months in the fridge, adds depth to everything it touches

Sticky spare ribs

Fabulous sticky ribs last night. Easy, you just need a bit of time. As it was a last-minute decision, I didn't marinade the meat, and it didn't seem to make any difference. We made proper pigs of ourselves.

Sticky ribs
for 4-5

1.5kg pork ribs

6 tbsp redcurrant jelly (or whatever jelly is to hand)
2 tbsp honey
2 finely chopped cloves garlic
1 knob of grated ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
chilli jam to taste (I used a tsp or so of a v hot mix)

Stir up the marinade ingredients, then coat the meat. Put everything in a roasting tin. Leave for an hour or the whole day if time allows.

Cover the tin with foil and roast at 170C for 45 minutes. Take the tin out, turn the meat over, turn the oven up to 190C, and roast uncovered for 45 minutes. Baste once or twice if possible. When they're done, switch off the oven and leave them for 5-10 minutes, otherwise they'll be too hot to handle.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I'd forgotten, til I made it in front of an audience of about 200 at the NEC on Thursday, how easy it is to make custard. If you use a double boiler, which takes longer, you don't have to stand and stir continuously.

As custard is the unctuous basis of many a good pud - trifle (which is what I'm making today), ice creams - it's worth taking a little trouble. And not much point in using cornflour: eggs will thicken the custard without the kind of help food manufacturers resort to.

Here, I'm following Fergus Henderson's recipe (from Nose to Tail 2), which has too much sugar for my taste - I'd halve it, unless it was going to be the basis of an ice.

The main problem with making your own custard is the amount of washing up it generates, even if you double up. A couple of saucepans, endless bowls, wooden spoons - and now I'm reminded why so many sieves hang in my kitchen.


450ml milk (you could use cream if you wanted)
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla essence
85g sugar

Heat the milk and vanilla essence. Beat the eggs and sugar and strain into a large bowl. When the milk is almost at boiling point, strain it into the egg mixture, stirring vigorously to prevent the mixture from curdling. Now put the bowl over a pan of boiling water. At this point, you can let it alone to a considerable extent; it will need only the occasional whisk.

When it's as thick as you'd like, cool it by pouring it into a bowl.

Friday, November 27, 2009

V easy trifle

Masterclass with Thomasina Miers yesterday. Lovely thrown together prune and armangac layers. Making it again for dinner tomorrow, so more detail soon. Fun at BBC food show.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My larder

Narrow shelves in a cool corridor ... see everything at a glance.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Alice Waters' Brussels sprouts

I love this new take on Brussels sprouts ... Alice Waters' new recipe in time for Thanksgiving. We don't just save sprouts for Xmas eating, so I'll be giving it a try in the next few days.

Monday, November 23, 2009

CWF's report, Eating the Planet?

As usual, commonsense from Joanna Blythman, this time on the meat vs vegetarian argument.

The absurd last-century idea that eating limitless piles of cheap, low-grade meat and dairy was some sort of democratic entitlement needs to be looked upon as an aberration in world history. We have to reverse the meat-and-two veg expectations of the last half-century. A correction is long overdue. Eating lower down the food chain and making the bulk of our diets more herbivorous and plant-centric is definitely where it’s at.
The full article appeared in The Herald last week. Here's a link to the Compassion in World Farming report Eating the Planet? There's a 20-page summary, as well as the 134-page full monty.

Time to up the meat-free days here ... but there's nothing harder than changing old habits.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wholemeal apple & almond cake

Delicious, with a hint of cinnamon. Eat warm from the oven as pud, or cold for breakfast/elevenses. Much nicer than the appley-cinnamony pastry I had in Selfridge's yesterday. There's a strong taste of almonds, even though they're cut 50:50 with flour (so economical).

It's from Hugh FW's new book, Every Day; he made it with pears on his show last week (you may need to be in the UK for this link to work).

Apple and almond cake

150g butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
75g wholemeal self-raising flour
75g ground almonds

for the apples

4-5 eating apples
25g butter
1 heaped tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

20cm springform cake tin
pre-heat the oven to 170C

Peel and core the apples, cut them into wedges and fry gently in the butter and sugar. When they are nearly tender, add the cinnamon and take off the heat.

Beat the butter and sugar together; add the eggs, then the flour, then the almonds. Scrape into the tin, smooth over, arrange the apples on top, spoon over the juices from the frying pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes (until a skewer comes out clean). Leave for a while before unclipping the tin (although this is probably going to fall apart anyway).

* I made it on the spur of the moment to use up some apples that had been sitting around for a few days; there were six, not quite too many.
* I had only 140g butter in total; the apples were fine in 10g, and the cake was fine with 130g. So no need for the full 175g.
* My cake is a little stodgy ("but good stodgy", said Amy) because I used plain wholemeal and forget to put in baking powder.
* The apples sit nicely on top of this cake, but when HFW made it with pears, they sank down almost to the bottom.

Related posts

Apple tart - Alfred once ate half of this at one go
Hugh FW's wonderful ginger cake
Easy almond ring cake - another pudding-y cake, better served with a little fruit

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kerry LowLow cheese, a review

Have you seen the ad where the mouse escapes from hundreds of traps protecting a slice of cheese on toast? Well, Kerry, the makers of LowLow, sent me some to try.

As the name suggests, it's low fat cheese; all they say is that it's made with semi-skimmed milk. I'm not a great fan of diet foods: in general I'd rather buy proper food. We don't eat much cheese, so when we do, I like it to be really good - brie made with unpastereurised milk, perhaps, Stichelton, or a piece of Mary Quickes' cheddar. So this was a departure for us.

It wasn't as bad as we feared. We all thought it was too waxy to be much good for eating, but pretty good and strong for cooking. Eleanor, who has more experience of low-fat cheeses, said that it was the best she'd tasted. I found it hard to get past the waxiness, but it's certainly flavourful, and so good for cooking.

We grated it into baked potatoes; good. We used it to brown the bechamel topping on a meaty lasagne; good. Last night I put the last of it into a white sauce (together with a little Philadelphia left from a boys' midnight feast) for cauliflower cheese - seriously rich and creamy.

Would I buy it again? Probably, although I wish I knew a little more about how they make it, and why it's got that waxiness I associate with poor quality mousetrap (unfortunate association of ideas in the ad!). But it melts well, makes a creamy well-flavoured sauce, with a little less calorie guilt.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bread sauce

Partridge for dinner last night. Roasted for 20 minutes at 220C. Could have done with a minute or two more, I think. Slightly disappointing, we both thought, just a little too like chicken to be worth bothering with. But it was red legged partridge, which is not so tasty as the native grey partridge.

I'm posting my method for making bread sauce because Lettice rang up from university last week to ask how to make it, after failing to find it on the blog. The really important thing is to have decent bread. Proper bread, preferably a loaf you made yourself. Anything that comes in a plastic bag will almost certainly not make decent breadcrumbs.

You hear people say they can't be bothered with bread sauce because it doesn't taste of much; I think they've probably only ever had packet bread sauce. For years I didn't bother, which I now rather regret, as it adds good texture to any bird. It's a good way to use up stale bread (important if you make your own, when there's no question of throwing any away), AND it's one of those thrifty dishes that stretches the meat further .... another way to eat less meat &/or save a little money. All the virtues. Especially if you bake a loaf first.

Bread sauce

I do it all by eye. It's very forgiving: if you get it wrong, you can correct it with more milk or breadcrumbs. It's also easy, so long as it's the first thing you prepare; it doesn't require much input from the cook, but it does need time to develop into something worth eating.

You'll need

milk (it doesn't have to be full-fat; I often use skimmed if that's what there is)
good breadcrumbs

Peel an onion or two (I used a couple of shallots yesterday). I generally cut them into chunks and leave them in the finished sauce, but this is not what refined cooks do. Pour milk into a saucepan (say, 5-600ml). Add the onions, a couple of cloves (stick them into the onion if you're going to fish it all out at the end), and grate a little nutmeg into the pan. A bay leaf would be good, too.

Heat the milk, but do not let it boil. Leave to steep for at least half an hour. Then add breadcrumbs (best if they're not blitzed to dust; a few bigger bits add texture). Somewhere between three and five slices is probably about right for up to 600ml of milk; they'll swell up as they absorb the flavoured milk, so leave a little spare milk in the mix. Better to be adding more crumbs at the end than milk, as any liquid you add will dilute the taste.

When you're ready to eat, reheat the sauce, adding more milk or breadcrumbs if necessary. Taste it, too, although you're unlikely to need to salt it, as bread is high in sodium.

Related posts

Roast grouse with bread sauce

Other things to do with stale or leftover bread

Herb stuffing for roast chicken
Grilled trout with rosemary stuffing
Baked scallops
Anchovy toasts

Lots of easy ways to bake your own bread, even though you're busy

Daily bread
Daily bread 2

Six seed rolls
Bread knots - another simple way to make beautiful and delicious rolls, using this dough, or your default dough

Yeast starter for bread - and the bread
make your own sourdough starter

No-knead bread the famous NY Times recipe
Speeded-up no-knead bread and a different take on it

Yoghurt bread fabulous, easy, TRY IT
Quick oat loaf
Spelt bread - it's getting easier to buy this highly-flavoured flour

Anti-oxidant tea bread - I made this for my husband for a pre-surgery boost - delicious, too!

Yeast conversion - fresh/dried/quick

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Little cheesy biscuits

These are seriously more-ish, so I've made them very small to avoid over-doing it. The recipe appears in various guises in virtually every recipe book that has a chapter on party food. I'm making them tonight for a community party on Saturday evening; there won't be another opportunity to make my plate of nibbles. These also have the advantage of being quick and easy.

You'll need equal quantities of:

  • strong cheese
  • white flour
  • butter (at room temperature)
plus a little cayenne pepper, and whatever you decide to decorate the biscuits with ... fennel seeds, chopped pistachio nuts, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, etc etc

I used 100g each of cheese, flour and butter, and used a mixture of parmesan and cheddar. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until a ball is formed. Roll the dough into a sausage and refridgerate for at least half an hour (you don't need to wrap it unless you're making this well ahead).

Slice the sausage to about the thickness of a £1 coin and place on a non-stick baking sheet (no need to grease). They don't spread much, so can be quite close. Decorate (or not). I used a few fennel seeds. Another time I might roll the whole sausage in poppy seeds before slicing.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 10 minutes. (My fan oven was set at 175C and they took 12 minutes.)

Cool on a rack. These can be made a couple of days ahead and put in an airtight box.

Supreme de poulet aux morilles

Last night's dinner was supreme de poulet aux morilles. Except that it wasn't, because there were "only" porcini in the larder. And although I was notionally following the recipe in Raymond Blanc's A Taste of My Life, I don't think he'd have given me the keys to a restaurant, because I couldn't help but disobey some of his orders.

The recipes in A Taste of My Life are fully explained; on top of that there are notes giving details of the science, the art, the prejudices of cheffing. Enough to intrigue.

Well, this was good, but we both agreed the sauce would have been better poured over a little pork. Lucius thought it should become part of my standard repertoire. That good. Also pretty simple, shorn of some of M Blanc's strictures.

I did, however, follow this guidance (given again and again): I like to boil wine before adding it to the dish. It intensifies the desirable flavours and removes the alcohol, which can leave an unpleasant flavour in the mouth. If you over-reduce the wine, however, you will lose the freshness and acidity.

Chicken breast with porcini & manzanilla sauce

30g dried porcini, soaked in 150g hot water
4 chicken breasts
a little butter
120g button mushrooms
120ml manzanilla, reduced a little
double cream (RB says 400ml, but I didn't use even half that)

Soak the mushrooms for as long as you can. RB says at least six hours for morels, but porcini rehydrate in less than half an hour. At the same time, bring the sherry to the boil in a small pan, and keep on the heat for a couple of minutes.

Brown the chicken on both sides in the butter - RB says two minutes each side. Put the meat onto a plate while you make the sauce in the same pan. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and the drained porcini. After a few minutes, add the soaking water and the manzanilla, stir, then add the cream. Put the chicken breasts into the pan, cover and cook. RB says that 180g breasts will take six minutes; although I didn't weigh the chicken, I found this timing spot on.

Plate the chicken, then reduce the sauce a little further.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trina's beetroot burgers

I'm not sure why I chose the beetroot burgers. It wasn't as if there were beetroots rotting at the bottom of my veg box; I had to go out specially to buy them.

And then I didn't have the courage of my convictions: I felt embarrassed at serving beetroot burgers, and it's taken me so long to write about it that I've forgotten what else was on the plate.

But they were delicious. Really delicious. Both of us ate more. Something to add to the collection of good things to eat on a vegetarian night.

The recipe comes from The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann, a riposte to the prevailing notion that only Italian/Mediterranean food is healthy - loads of seasonal dishes for northern Europeans to eat well through the winter without air-freighting summer foods from the southern hemisphere. (Also interesting summer dishes, but that's for another season.)

So, slow-growing grains - oats, rye, barley, spelt - mingle with cold water fish such as mackerel, herring, haddock; and an entirely new take on the kinds of vegetables schools once made a point of overcooking and then forcing down the throats of reluctant pupils. (At my primary school, we weren't allowed to leave the table until we'd eaten everything: I never went to lessons on Friday afternoon, because I couldn't manage the slice of Edam; my friend DD was done down by beetroot on Wednesdays; and Elsie McA never went to school at all in the afternoons.) Also modern ideas for cooking game which I'll be exploring.

Beetroot burgers
for 2

300g grated raw beetroot
50g oatmeal
2 small eggs (or 1 large egg)
1 shallott, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tbsp chopped parsley
a little oil for frying

Mix the ingredients in a large bowl and set aside for an hour.

Heat the oven to 180C.

Squeeze together flat cakes of the mixture (or make one big cake, that's certainly what I'll do next time). Fry on both sides until golden, then transfer to an ovenproof dish and bake for 20 minutes.

Trina serves this with a barley salad (cooked grains mixed with chopped celery and parsley dressed with vinaigrette). I think we had boiled potato and a green salad.

The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann is due out in January, £12.99. Published by Quadrille Books, to whom thanks for the advance copy.

Related posts

Beetroot salad

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Oatcakes 2

These are the oatcakes I've been making recently; crunchier, shorter than the ones I posted the other day. I'm about to make them with a little parmesan grated into the mix, so that we can eat them before dinner (actually, it will be with a glass of wine in the interval of Turandot at the cinema).

300g oatmeal (just blitz some porridge oats if you don't have oatmeal)
seeds - I generally use sunflower, and there are more every time I make these
75ml olive oil
a pinch of salt
black pepper

Mix everything together, gather it into a ball, then roll out as thin as you can. Mine are always notable for being uneven, which means you choose thick or thin to go with your cheese. Cut them into shapes. You can keep on gathering up the mixture until it's all shaped.

Bake at 180C for 15 minutes on each side. Cool on a rack.

Related links

The clear message from these previous posts is that oatcakes are far far nicer if you don't use any water.

Oatcakes I made years ago and then forgot about

Dahlias for 2010

This is Sarah Raven's list of new dahlias to look out for next season; I've torn the page out of today's Telegraph, but I'd rather the paper was in the bin and the information somewhere I can be sure of finding it.

Blacks, crimsons and deep reds

D4 - a decorative group, small black dahlia which has not yet been named
Karma Choc - waterlily, 2-3ft, Winchester Growers had it at Chelsea
Tamburo - semi-cactus, half the size of Chat Noir
Tahoma Moonshot - orchid, star-shaped (note to self: not as beautiful as the red star-shaped dahlia in the fruit cage which came from Ayletts)
Spartacus - large-flowered decorative, a little like Thomas Edison
McAllisters Pride - cactus, gold heart and crimson red petals

Purples and magenta

Purple Haze - decorative
Jocondo - giant decorative

Pinks and corals

Classic Rosamunde - classic group, semi-double, looks like a Japanese anemone. SR says it was covered in bees when she saw it at de Boschhoeve (note to self, my favourite of the dahlias illustrated)
Sugar Diamond - cactus, smokey antiqu pink, SR says would be good mixed with a bright pink eg Geerlings Jubilee
Juliet - single, similar to Magenta Star which you can only get at the moment as a rooted cutting (and which did well here last year). Pretty, single flowers which contrast with black foliage


Happy Halloween - decorative. Robust, floriferous, "the perfect orange dahlia"
Olympic Fire - bishop. Similar to Bishop of Oxford, but better - dk foliage contrasts with semi-double burnt orange flowers (there's a photo, and it's a must-have for next year)
City of Rotterdam - cactus. Compact, 20" Covered in spiky orange "sea urchin" flowers. Good for pots
Scura - topmix. V small, flowers the size of a £2 coin. Graceful, elegant, good in a pot.

Some of these are in a Telegraph special offer as rooted cuttings. Otherwise in spring from Sarah Raven and from Winchester Growers, the national collection holder just outside Penzance.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Mincemeat with quince instead of apples

Five huge quince from the Italian deli: time for a serious look through the recipe books for some ideas. My grandmother Buzz made quince jam every year, and her manuscript book - parts of which date back to the 19th century - is still my best source of inspiration on all things quince. Their scent takes me back to her kitchen in Oxford, to the enamelled kitchen table where she taught me how to bake.

Two have gone into the Christmas mincemeat instead of apple; one's flavouring some cheap brandy; the last two are going to be membrillo by the end of the day, and the peelings will be boiled up into a syrup*. When all that's done, I'm going straight back to the deli for some more, before the fleeting season ends. (And, no, I'm not going to tell you the name of the deli, in case you get there first. Sorry.)

I don't make many individual mince pies (too fiddly, wrong ratio of pastry to mincemeat), but a standard December pud here is an open mincemeat tart, sometimes using filo pastry, sometimes lovely egg-rich flaky. I've often bought the best mincemeat I could find, and added a little orange zest and a drizzle of brandy. Not this year. Easy peasy, you just need time for all that chopping. And a big sharp knife.

Mincemeat with quince ... or what Nigella calls quincemeat

for 3-4 big jars

Peel, core and chunk 1kg quince - that's two huge shop-bought ones, but would probably be six or seven of the smaller ones I grow in the garden (when I can get a crop). Toss them in a little almond oil (or melted butter?) and bake in a low oven for up to an hour until they're soft.

Meanwhile, chop 850g of mixed dried fruit - I used big fat muscat raisins, golden sultanas, a few Turkish apricots and a box of Italian crystalised lemon and lime peels. Put these in a large bowl with 250g muscovado sugar, 4 teaspoons of the best mixed spice you can find (I used The Spice Shop's Christmas mixture, which is FABULOUS all year round), and 100ml of spirit. Brandy would be the usual thing here, but I've got some home made eau de vie de coing, aka quince vodka & so I used that. Add 250g shredded suet (I forgot to ask the butcher, so I used a box of Atora; don't use the vegetable sort, it's the margarine of suets).

When the quince is both tender and cool, chop it finely and add to the bowl. Mix well and bottle. Leave at least a couple of weeks to let the flavours develop.

When it's time to make mince pies, I'll add a little grated orange zest, and perhaps some more spirit.

PS don't throw away the peelings, they will scent a *syrup made with equal quantities of water and caster sugar boiled down to half its volume. If I was really thrifty, I'd do this with orange peelings, too (there are never any lemon peels here, as I always find some use for the zest). For glazes, to sweeten tea, etc etc.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pepper honey

Who would have thought that pepper boiled up with a little sugar, water and lemon juice could be so delicious or so useful? 20 minutes to make my latest larder must-have. And that's including time to find a jar for it.

This concoction has 101 uses: lunch was a slice of gorgonzola drizzled with this peppery nectar; the pork I'm cooking for dinner will be glazed with it. Kate Hill, whose recipe this was, says it's good stirred into mint tea - so that's this afternoon sorted.

Pepper honey

Put two handsful of peppercorns into a pan with 200cl of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Strain and set aside the peppers. Add 500g sugar to the water, also the juice and zest of a lemon. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Add the peppercorns and simmer for a further five minutes. Taste and bottle.

Related posts

Valvona and Crolla's gorgonzola with honey

Nigella's sticky pears with gorgonzola

Other larder recipes to make now

Spiced apricot and orange chutney
Quince liqueur
Chilli jam - I'm afraid this is such a staple in this house that I make it at any time of year if I've used up the summer batches
Preserved lemons
Christmas chutney
Home-made vanilla extract
Sticky sloe vodka - there's just time, if you can find sloes before the birds

Friday, October 30, 2009

High fructose corn syrup: A recipe for hypertension

Confirming what we already know: anything with corn syrup is likely to be bad for us. That's most manufactured food then ... from Coca Cola right through to basic bread. Not just type 2 diabetes, but also high blood pressure.

High fructose corn syrup: A recipe for hypertension

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sticky ginger loaf

It's hard to believe that a simple two-egg cake could be so full of flavours and richness. I've been wanting to make gingerbread for ages, but have lost my cousin Rosemary's recipe - it's her signature piece. Sadly, she's too ancient to bake these days, and wasn't too sure about the recipe when I asked her a few weeks ago. So, time to try something new.

This one's from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new book, Every Day, and it's good. Really good. Is-two-slices-enough?-good. Even if you think you don't like ginger, or black treacle. AND it keeps well.

Sticky ginger loaf

75g butter
150g dark muscovado sugar
150g black treacle
150g golden syrup
75g rum
2 medium eggs
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
75g preserved ginger, chopped

Prepare a large bread tin. Heat the oven to 180C.

Melt the butter, sugar, treacle and syrup. Add the rum and beaten eggs. Sift in the flour and spices. Beat until smooth, then add the chopped ginger. Pour into the tin and bake for 50 minutes. Leave in the tin to cool.

If you like, you can brush the cold cake with a little syrup from the preserve jar.

PS Another time, I'd put in more preserved ginger. And I'd be happy to substitute the rum for ginger wine. It's just that I've got a bottle of rum no-one drinks that was old when my mother--in-law gave it to me, half empty, nearly 25 years ago.

PPS This would be good for cricket teas: one would be enough to make half slices for both teams. Great for a cold day at the start of the season.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Best and worst cereals

This post is really for my children, who insist on eating salted/sugared packet cereals at breakfast.

Here are links to research originated at Yale: a list of the 10 most nutritionally empty commercial cereals, the 10 best manufactured cereals, and the 10 cereals most marketed to children. Some of the names are slightly different in the UK, but they're still recognisable.

Last night there was a programme I didn't see about the lack of value - both nutritional and financial - in manufactured cereals. I would provide a link to 4 on Demand, but Channel Four is showing the programme again in the early hours of Friday morning, so here's a link to the programme website: Dispatches, What's in Your Breakfast?

Better stick to porridge.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Keith Floyd's Lapin aux pruneaux (Sauté of wild rabbit with prunes and Armagnac)

Okay, so this is homage to Keith Floyd. Actually, it's straightforward French regional cooking, but when I think of Floyd, I think of fish and France. Whatever, it was utterly delicious.

In the 70s, my husband, an unlikely restaurateur, came back from Harvard Business School and started what he hoped would be a small chain of American hamburger joints (in the days when hamburger was, in Britain, synonymous with Wimpy, as that's all there was). Right around the corner from his restaurant at 2 The Mall, Clifton (there used to be peurile jokes on the fascia, viz, to them all, omnibus) was a wildly successful student dive run by a wildly flamboyant cook called Keith. The kitchen was more or less two rings at the back, there was plenty of cheap food and loads of booze. Keith was running his restaurant for the cooking and the craic, and not making much money. So he sold the restaurant to a couple who thought that they could do better: they'd clean it up, enlarge the kitchen, squeeze a few more tables into the basement ... and the crowd moved on, and it closed down.

In the 80s, newly married, I saw those first episodes of Floyd on Fish when they were broadcast in the West country, before he went national. Our telly was a tiny black and white affair, not very well tuned (I don't suppose we had an aerial on our roof, but our house on the cliff at Totterdown towered above Brunel's elegant curved railway station which must have helped). Despite these visual handicaps, it was easy to see that here was something different - the table set on the deck of that trawler, the huge wine glasses, the enthusiasm, the music, especially the music. You really couldn't imagine, say, Delia, using a theme tune by The Stranglers.

All in all, not difficult to join Julia from A Slice of Cherry Pie and James from Back to the Chopping Board to pay tribute to someone who brought so much fun to the kitchen.

This traditional French way with rabbit is delicious ... and I was very amused to find on the Keith Floyd website that the details are not well worked out - the recipe published there is actually two jammed together, which meant that a certain amount of extemporising was necessary. I stuck with the original title, but I could have gone the other way, ditched the prunes, armagnac and cream in favour of white wine and tomatoes. Next time. Cheers, Keith.

Wild rabbit with prunes and Armagnac

If you don't like rabbit, this is good with chicken. But if you haven't tried rabbit, DO give it a go - so long as it is wild rabbit, not farmed, which has a tendency to taste of fish, whilst being flabby ... none of the virtues. Wild rabbit, on the other hand, has had a good life, is tasty (much tastier than even the priciest chicken), firm, and very very cheap.

  • Rabbit – jointed
  • Stoned prunes
  • Finely diced shallots
  • Finely crushed garlic
  • Diced bacon
  • Peeled small onions or shallots
  • Chicken stock
  • Armagnac or brandy
  • Thyme
  • Oil for frying
  • Flour for dusting
  • Salt/pepper
  • Butter for frying
  • Parsley
  • Butter
  • Double cream
You might like little round onions for this, in which case peel them. Otherwise chop a large onion and sweat it in a little oil with the diced bacon. When they're nearly done, add a little chopped garlic. Do this in a heavy-based casserole. Meanwhile, dust the rabbit joints with seasoned flour (you could put a little mustard powder in for extra depth of flavour), and brown them in butter and oil in a frying pan. When they are done, add Armagnac to the pan - if you are Keith, you flame it; if you are me, you can't get the liquor to light (but it doesn't really matter). Chuck all this into the casserole, with prunes (soaked, if necessary) and chopped thyme. Pour in a little chicken stock. (Would it be boasting to say that I used grouse stock? I thought it was a suitably flamboyant touch, in view of my failure with the flambéing.)

Simmer for 40 minutes. When it's done, add a splash of cream. Mmm

Related posts

Prune and armagnac tart

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Deborah Madison's sorrel and lentil soup

This is the early-morning view from my kitchen window .. not surprising that we're no longer eating much salad, and that I'm thinking of braising vegetables and making soups.

I'd never heard of the American food writer Deborah Madison until my sister (who is now an American) gave me Local Flavours, a celebration of farmers' markets. Even then, I didn't twig that it's a vegetarian book (I'm still not sure whether DM herself is a veggie). Whatever, she's got serious style.

Two links, the first to Deborah Madison's potluck dinner - the best tableware, Julia Child boeuf bourgignon, fabulous bread, pears poached in wine and gilded with gold leaf, a grape galette, good wine ... and then, as if all that wasn't enough, with half an hour to go, DM thought she'd make an amuse-bouche of sorrel and lentil soup, which is the second link (although the quick I'm-doing-this-at-the-last-minute method is probably the one to go for, assuming you have a pressure cooker, which I no longer do).

Local Flavours is a good read, although I've never followed any of the recipes, because it's all in imperial measurements and cups, which is tricky for a European metric cook. I am, however, seriously tempted by the braised root veg with black lentils and red wine sauce ... it's one of those dishes that takes most of the day, although not much input from the cook. And now that I look at the detail, there's not a cup in sight. No excuses, then.

If you're not sure what sorrel is, here's a link to a post I wrote a couple of years ago about growing and cooking with sorrel

Friday, October 16, 2009

Digestive biscuits

Cricket club committee meeting last night. Three-hour marathon (yes, I know you'd think 22 people just turn up for a game of cricket, but, believe me, a lot goes on that most of the 22 haven't begun to get to grips with). I took homemade digestives and someone asked for the recipe. It's from Hugh FW's new book, Every Day, and it's the first thing I've tried.

Two things: the instructions say to chill the paste before rolling out, but it's much more malleable when it's warm, so I think I'd leave this step out another time, perhaps chilling it after cutting the biscuits. ALSO it's best to make fairly small biscuits, as they are very short and crumbly.

These are good on their own (with a cup of tea) or with cheese. But I think I'd make half the quantity another time, this is a lot of digestives.

Digestive biscuits

250g wholemeal flour
250g butter cut into cubes
250g medium oatmeal
110g soft brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
about 1 tbsp milk

Pulse the flour and butter to breadcrumbs, then add all the other dry ingredients. Add the milk drop by drop, you really only want as much as will bring the paste together. Press it into a disc (perhaps put it into the fridge for half an hour), and roll out thin. You'll need to dust it with flour, as it's very sticky. Cut into small rounds.

Put on a baking sheet (they can go close together because they don't spread at all) and bake for around 10 minutes at 180C. You should check them after about 7-8 minutes, as they burn fast, and will be ready much sooner if they are thin. Cool on a wire rack.

They're good, but the oatcakes I made the other day are cheaper, simpler to make, and don't have so much fat. Although I suppose they'd improve by being dipped in a little chocolate.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Roast grouse with bread sauce

Last week, looking at the butcher's display, I realised I have never cooked grouse. Now, it will be hard to resist ... delicious, an easy treat ... but, of course, ruinously expensive. Cheaper than a restaurant, and much much nicer - I've been off restaurants for years*, really. It began, I think, when I saw Gordon Ramsay making something on telly with a slice of processed "bread" from a plastic bag. How do you earn Michelin stars if you don't know anything about bread? The prejudice was confirmed at the gastropub where my daughter worked all last year - fabulous food, except that it was all always thoroughly oversalted.

Buying two young grouse was the easy part. How to cook them? I thought Lady Maclean's Cookbook would be a good place to start, but she and her upper crust Highland friends all assumed you knew how to roast a grouse, and were full of suggestions for what to do when you'd got fed up and wanted a change: grouse salad, anyone? perhaps a little devilled grouse? So I read everything Hugh FW wrote in Meat, and then followed the cooking (but not preparation) instructions given by Norman Tebbit in his wonderful new The Game Cook.

Of course, if you're eating game birds, then you've got to have bread sauce, which is a doddle providing you have proper white bread on hand. You just peel a shallot or two (or an onion), put it in some milk with a couple of cloves and some bay leaves, heat it up a little and leave it to steep. You do this early in the day. When it's nearly dinner time, you strain the milk and chuck in your white breadcrumbs, let them expand, then check the seasoning. Another of those things which is not much more difficult than the processed equivalent, yet 100x better.

As for the grouse, it roasts quickly with a minimum of fuss. I cooked ours during the first half of the England match, and we ate it at half time - well, actually, we missed a bit of the second half. And when the match was over, we had a little cheese with the last of the oatcakes I made the other day.

Roast grouse

one grouse per person
one apple per grouse
streaky bacon
a slice of good white bread per bird
paté de foie gras (in the absence of grouse livers)
wine and stock for the gravy

Heat the oven to 190C.

Cut the apples and put them into the grouse. Cover the birds with streaky bacon (stretch it first on the back of your knife; it will crisp quicker). Roast on a rack in a tin, if possible. After 20-25 minutes, take off the bacon, then return the birds to the oven for 10 minutes to brown. Let them stand for 10 minutes before eating.

While they are standing, fry the bread in hot oil, and spread with the foie gras or fried grouse livers (we were not lucky enough to get any giblets with our birds). At the same time, make gravy with some fortified wine and good stock - I used some homemade trotter gear, which makes everything it touches silky smooth and flavoursome.

Serve with redcurrant jelly, watercress or steamed cabbage, and some little roasted potatoes. On hot plates. Make sure to save the bones for stock. That's today's task.

*I'll make an exception for Leon, where the food is always exactly what you want, and Pizza Express, Alfred's favourite; both serving proper food at decent prices. But that's lunch, not dinner. Actually, I'm not really that bah humbug, I enjoy a meal out as much as the next cook. It's just that I think we mostly do rather better at home. And definitely last night.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Last night I made oatcakes. Easy peasy. Delicious. Far cheaper to bake at home (also no plastics or other wrapping). I'm ashamed it's taken me so long, and that the impetus was laziness: it was easier to make them than to go out and buy some.


250g rolled oats
a pinch of bicarb
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp butter
very hot water

Begin by making oatmeal from the rolled oats; blitz them in a food processor until they are coarse or fine crumbs, depending on the texture you are aiming for in the finished biscuits.

Tip them into a big bowl. Add the salt and bicarb, then stir in the melted butter (you could use olive oil). Add the water very slowly - you want as little as possible, just enough to make the oats stick together. I'd be surprised if I used more than 100ml.

Gather the oats up into a ball, then roll them out as thin as you can. Either stamp them into little rounds, or make traditional farls* by cutting a large circle into six.

Put the cakes onto a baking sheet and bake in a hot oven (200c) for 15-20 minutes. Watch them carefully towards the end; you want them just beginning to turn brown at the edges. I baked mine in the wood oven; the temperature was rising from 180 to 210 while they were in, and they took 18 minutes. I suspect they are pretty forgiving.

* I've just discovered that farl comes from Viking for 1/4, but these days farls of oatcake and shortbread are cut into six rather than four.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Potato and mushroom gratin

Here's an interesting twist to breathe new life into an old favourite ... a little white wine in a milky potato gratin. Gives the sweetness of the milk a sophisticated twist. Nigella's idea, unsurprisingly. Here's my version:

Potato and mushroom gratin

1kg thinly sliced floury potatoes
500 ml milk
100 ml white wine
a large handful of dried mushrooms
garlic, butter and oil

Turn the oven on to 200C.

Soak the mushrooms in a little boiling water. Put the sliced potatoes, milk and wine in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Melt a little butter with some oil in a frying pan. Finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic and add them to the pan. Drain the mushrooms (you can add the water to the potatoes if you like) and mix into the garlicky buttery oily mess. Keep on a very gentle heat for a few minutes, stopping before the garlic browns. Mix the mushrooms in with the potatoes, turn everything out into an oiled gratin dish and bake in a hot oven for 45-60 minutes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Easy almond ring cake

This cake is based on one of Nigella's cheating recipes, using shop-bought marzipan as one of the main ingredients. I started by making the marzipan, which probably added about two minutes to the total time spent in the kitchen.

I'm taking it to give my hostess (and best friend) when we go out to dinner this evening, but I really made it to comfort myself with familiar kitchen rituals after a couple of pretty grim weeks. And it's worked.

Damp almond ring cake

250g softened butter
250g softened marzipan
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
6 duck eggs
150g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 170C. Blitz the butter, marzipan and sugar. When they are smoothly mixed, add the vanilla essence, and then the eggs, one by one. Mix in the flour. Pour into a buttered 25cm ring mould. Bake for 40-50 minutes.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bread sculpture on the 4th plinth

This has to be the best hour on the fourth plinth this summer ... an Anthony Gormley sculpture made of BREAD, which everyone ate in St James's Park when time was up. Fabulous!

PS these are my favourite pictures of the Angel of the North

Thursday, October 08, 2009


We've been lighting the occasional fire for a couple of weeks, but it's only in the last two days that we've kept the stove in overnight. Those wisps of smoke are a welcoming sight on the way back from a cold early morning trip to the station ... a warm kitchen (our house has no central heating), a hearth ready to bake.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Spiced peaches (or prunes)

I recently made this delicious preserve with peaches ... I'm posting it now so that I don't forget, and because it can also be made with prunes for a winter alternative. It's from Picnics for Motorists published by Hilda Leyel in 1936.

We ate something pretty similar with ham at my goddaughter's wonderful 21st birthday party in Somerset at midsummer.

Spiced peaches

6-7 peaches (500g soaked prunes)
200g soft brown sugar
250 ml water
75 ml red wine vinegar
a stick of cinnamon
six cloves
four allspice
two blades of mace
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Cook everything together gently. When the fruit is tender, strain it into sterilized jars using a slotted spoon. Boil the syrup for 4-5 minutes until it has thickened slightly. Pour over the fruit. Seal and label the jars.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Blue Orpingtons

We went to the ploughing match yesterday, where it was the old-fashioned ploughing that caught our attention:

We met friends, we tried on waxed jackets and sturdy boots, Lucius bought a pair of telescopic loppers. And I bought two blue Orpington hens in the poultry auction. They are very nervous at the moment, and only come out when it's raining. I'll post better pictures when they've settled down. (I fear I'm going to turn into the poultry equivalnt of a mad cat blogger.)

Related links:

First outing for our buff Orpington chicks

Sunday, October 04, 2009

St John caraway seed cake

I wish I could blog the eggy buttery smell in my kitchen since I took this cake out of the oven. Here's the recipe, so you can make it yourself - one to have and one to share. It's Fergus Henderson; this version once appeared in the Telegraph cookery section, and is not quite the same as the seed cake in Beyond Nose to Tail.

St John caraway seed cake

250g butter
250g caster sugar
5 eggs
350g self-raising flour
2 tsp caraway seeds
120-150ml milk

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line two loaf tins with paper (I use ready-made liners, which saves a lot of Blue Peter project work).

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Sift in the flour, add the caraway seeds and stir until everything is well mixed and the seeds evenly distributed. Then add milk. In this recipe, FH says add "a splash", but this doesn't make the required pouring consistency for the batter. The recipe in Beyond Nose to Tail Eating has similar proportions and calls for 150ml of milk - more than a splash. You'll have to feel your way. I put in three splashes, probably about 90ml, which was not enough for a dropping consistency, although the finished cake is fine.

Pour the batter into the tins and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Open season for pheasant

Today is the first day of the pheasant season. In anticipation of joys to come, I'm reading Norman Tebbit's The Game Cook. There's lots of basic information for people who've never cooked game, but also some new ideas for ways to cook pheasant. It'll be a week or so before there are any pheasant fit to eat, and then I'll be forced to choose: Highland pheasant (with haggis and a slug of whisky), pheasant with beetroot, potato and parsnip (quite a few of my personal favourites in one dish), with red cabbage, with apples and cream? But we'll probably start the season with pheasant and pigs' trotters ... an inspired idea for overcoming the dry leanness of pheasant.

In the mean time, the pheasants that live round here seem to know life's a little trickier today than it was yesterday: it's the first day for months that I haven't seen a single pheasant. I won't see many in the garden or on the roads round here until February. It happens every year, and I always find myself wondering if they have some sort of Jungian collective memory ...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Buttered and creamed parsnips

Parsnips are just beginning to appear in the shops (although they'll be sweeter once there's been a frost). Lettice made dinner last night, a very good slow roast of pork (1.8 kg took three hours at 140C). She chose to make her favourite winter vegetable dish, creamed parsnips, and she'd be the first to admit they weren't a great triumph.

It's often best to go back to the beginning when you've had a culinary disaster. So I'm giving the recipes here; they're from Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book, and they appear consecutively. She also gives a John Evelyn recipe for buttered parsnips dating back to 1699, which you serve with a bowl of sugar and cinnamon and a bowl of melted butter. Maybe we'll skip that one.

Buttered parsnips

Scrub, boil and cool the parsnips under the cold tap. Peel off the skin and slice or quarter them as appropriate to their size. Cut away any hard core. Melt a good generous knob of butter in a frying pan and turn the pieces over and over in it, adding plenty of pepper. They should not brown or fry in any proper sense of the word. They just need to absorb butteriness. Add a little extra butter and plenty of chopped parsley, or a mixture of parsley, chives and tarragon, and serve with meat, with cod, or on their own.

Creamed parsnips

Follow the recipe for buttered parsnips, but pour on some whipping or double cream before you add the herbs. Not a great deal, just enough to make a coating sauce, with the pan juices.

I use spices rather than herbs - mainly nutmeg. Next time I'll try using herbs.

And remember: they just need to absorb the butteriness. It's amazing what a treat you can make out of the humble parsnip with a little care.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Julie and Julia

Just back from seeing the film of the book of the blog, Julie and Julia. At last, I understand about J Child - a sort of American Delia, but human, and a better cook. Funny how she doesn't figure at all here.

I liked Julie better than in the blog or the book. And there were moments for bloggers to treasure - the first comment, the who's-reading-this-rubbish-anyway, the decisions about what to include, who to leave out, the way blogging becomes part of your life.

I went on my own, but I'm going to get the film on DVD the day it comes out so that my family watch .... then perhaps they'll understand that my blogging, although occasionally embarrassing (think camera in restaurant), is not even near obsessional. (Or quite as lucrative.)

Quick plum tart

Last night was the last time until Christmas that all six of us will sit down together to eat. So I made a quick pudding - I went into the garden in the gloaming, picked a few sticky-sweet Victoria plums, halved and stoned them and put them on a sheet of puff pastry which I'd brushed with jam made from last year's crop. 15 minutes in a hot oven. Mmm ... except for one thing: those fabulously sweet plums turned sour in the oven. Any ideas why this should be?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nigel Slater's stuffed courgettes with dill sauce and mince

We had a delicious dinner last night, courtesy of ideas from Nigel Slater's new book - although I probably could have made something similar after reading one of his old ones.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Slater - it irritates me that he treats himself as one of the immortals in the Observer Food Monthly magazine that he edits. On the other hand, his journalism keeps him in the moment, and he's very good at reinventing the same ideas for a new day. So cook-your-own-veg was always going to be the topic for the next book (actually the next two, this announces itself as volume one).

Since his plot is a tiny London garden, and since he buys most of the veg he eats, he's aware that he's a candidate for Pseud's Corner, which results in some nicely self-mocking moments. But there's a little too much smugness, and this made me laugh out loud:

Watching someone you love eat a tomato you have grown yourself makes it more than just a tomato. It becomes a source of glorious, yet strangely humbling, pleasure.
I mean, per-lease ... who does he think he is?

Overall, A cook and his vegetable patch is good. After you've read the introductory pages, it's a book for browsing and consulting rather than reading straight through; it's arranged alphabetically by vegetable and/or groups of vegetable - lots of plants you'd like to eat and grow.

It's not quite sure whether to be a gardening book or a cookery book (and not quite so successful at blending the two as Christopher Lloyd's Gardener Cook). So there aren't always horticultural notes, but there are lists and lists of Slater's favourite varieties.

Here, for instance, is his list of chard (since there's still just time to sow one last row, something I should be doing right now):
Swiss Chard Classic variety with green leaves and very wide, flat stems. Sometimes known as silver beet.

Wavy Leaf What it says on the packet.

Rhubarb Chard Green-maroon leaves, vermillion veins and stems. Slightly less hardy than the others.

Bright Lights Green leaves with veins and stems of raspberry pink, blood red, saffron, orange and yellow. Similar to Jacob's Coat and Rainbow mixtures.

Oriole Deep gold viens, very dark leaves.

Fordhook Giant Large, flat white stems, curling green leaves. This is one to cook leaves and stalks separately.

Last night, I wanted to tackle the courgette and summer squash mountain that has been quietly stacking up here. So the new book was an obvious place to look for inspiration (it's definitely that moment of the summer when I'm literally fed up with my "usual" courgette recipes). Since the courgettes were to be the main part of the meal, I chose to make Slater's fruit and nut filling to sprinkle onto a dish of sliced squash, accompanied by a little mince fried to crispy nubbly delicious lumps (typical Slater, something he's written about before). And there was an interesting cold dill sauce to go with it.

I followed the instructions pretty accurately for the stuffing/topping. Next time, I wouldn't bother with the couscous, I'd just use breadcrumbs for a softer result.

Fruit and nut filling for baked courgettes
for 4

1 onion, chopped
olive oil
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
50g dried apricots, finely chopped
40g pistachios, chopped
150g couscous
250ml hot stock
tbsp thyme leaves, chopped
grated zest of a lemon
tbsp chopped parsley
8 medium courgettes

Oven 180C

Pour the stock onto the couscous, add a glug of olive oil, cover with a plate for 10 minutes. Soften the onion in some oil; add the breadcrumbs, apricot and pistachios. Take off the heat. When the couscous has taken up all the liquid, mix in the breadcrumbs, herbs and zest.

Halve the courgettes lengthwise and put in a single layer in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle on the stuffing, then cover with foil or greaseproof paper.

They'll take about half an hour, more if you've put in some slices of summer squash.

Dill sauce

Finely chop a small bunch of dill. Bash a clove of garlic and combine with 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar, 3 of olive oil, and 4 of yoghurt.

If you want to turn this into a sort of deconstructed traditional stuffed marrow, then cook some mince: Heat a little oil in a frying pan; when it is smoking hot, drop in pieces of mince and LEAVE THEM until they have crisped at the edges. Add dill, chopped garlic, lemon zest, chilli jam (or chopped fresh chilli). Turn the meat. When it's cooked through, add salt and chopped parsley before serving. Slater's recipe uses minced pork; I used minced beef because that was what I had.

PS I take some of this back: I've just spotted that NS no longer edits the Observer Food Monthly. But someone, maybe the telly critic, did describe him as God in last weekend's paper. Harrumph

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Venetian spritz

The sun's shining hot today, perhaps we'll have an Indian summer, so then we'll need something lovely to drink ... and here's the method for making a Venetian spritz:


1 part white wine
1 part Campari
1 part sparkling water


a little ice and a slice of lemon

There's masses more about this traditional treat from the Veneto at Living Venice. Thanks for the reminder, Nan