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Autumn/ Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

FEEDING PEOPLE – EASY BAKED SALMON

Colourful, healthy and SO easy.

Let me state right up front, I love to have a table full of people for whom I’m cooking. Don’t much mind if I’m just making a giant risotto for twelve with antipasti first and green salad then fruit and cheese, or a full scale cordon bleu high French cuisine meal for four. Have to say the former scenario is less stressful and much easier on the budget. On reflection, I am not sure anyone really entertains at home in that formal way any more and I can’t stand it when home entertaining becomes a competitive sport.

On that basis, I am going to do a series of occasional posts talking about recipes and tips I have found useful when feeding people at different times of the year and of the day. I will probably include a few failures as well, on the basis that I’m human!

Having said that, having friends round their table is something that sometimes worries people though, so this post is giving you an absolutely foolproof main course that can be put on the table in under 30 minutes, is stress-free and can be done even if you’ve over done it on the aperitivi before you get in the kitchen…not that I have any experience in that regard…

Before we get to the recipe, I would like to emphasise that the quality of ingredients here is crucial: when we cook something this simple, the flavours must be clear and authentic, so do try to find the best you can and in the case of the salmon, preferably organic.

In terms of setting this within the context of say, a three course meal, I usually give people either a simple soup (prepared the day before) or a cold starter (Roquefort, pear and walnut salad is a crowd pleaser and dead easy), followed by a big bought tart, fresh fruit and cheese. Again, very simple so look for the best you can afford.

While I’ve been writing this, I have come to the conclusion that I really don’t like the word “entertaining” in this context. It’s all a bit Abigail’s Party (find it on You Tube – it’s genius) or 1980’s Cuisine Minceur (don’t bother Googling that – dreadful phase in food; everything served on black octagonal plates and so tiny you just wanted to make a pile of buttered toast once home). Having people round a table, eating good home cooked food (ahem, apart from puddings…) accompanied by conversation and laughter is one of great pleasures. Yes, wine helps but some of the best conversation round our table has come from teetotallers or designated drivers. On second thoughts, maybe there is a correlation there…

That’s a long paragraph to describe why I dislike the pretensions that can accompany feeding people at home and I still haven’t found a word to replace entertaining, so I am going to leave it at “feeding people” and hope it doesn’t make me sound too institutional!

Don’t be deterred by the length of these recipe; it is dead easy and when you’ve done it once, it will all slot into place and you’ll do with your eyes closed – or after a few aperitivi

EASY BAKED SALMON

Print Recipe
Serves: as many as you like Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 fillet of organic salmon per person
  • 1 slice of Parma ham per fillet (optional - see notes)
  • bay leaves
  • olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • small bunches of cherry tomatoes, left on the vine
  • sweet potatoes, say, 1 chunky one per person but depends on appetites!
  • mature spinach (not those wimpish “baby”leaves that are for salad but have no flavour when cooked); buy more than you think you can possibly eat
  • fresh or dried thyme
  • 1 clove garlic
  • butter
  • double cream or creme frâiche
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • nutmeg

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees/180 degrees fan

2

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into chunks about the size of a golf ball

3

Wash the spinach in two or three changes of water and leave in a colander to drain

4

Put olive oil into a shallow baking tin or oven proof dish, add the chunks of sweet potato ensuring they are all well coated with oil

5

Add black pepper, thyme and a smashed garlic clove (no need to peel it)

6

Put in the oven for 20 minutes

7

Take a second oven proof dish and add a drizzle of olive oil - just enough to lubricate the base

8

Pat dry each salmon filet and wrap each in a slice of Parma ham with the “seams” underneath

9

Slot a bay leaf under the ham, on top, with the tips poking out

10

Add the tomatoes to the dish, with the salmon, making sure they have a drip of olive oil of them but aren’t swimming in it

11

Put in the oven proof dish and wait until the sweet potatoes have had their 20 minutes

12

At that point, turn over the potatoes and return them to the oven

13

Put the salmon in the oven and set your timer for 15 minutes (Note that this time is for a slender fillet - if you have gone for a chunkier size, add a few minutes)

14

About 5 minutes before time is up, take your largest pan and melt a good sized knob of butter

15

When it has foamed, add the spinach and ensure it is all well coated with butter

16

Add a pinch of salt, put the lid on and leave it alone for about four minutes over a medium heat

17

When the time goes off for the oven; switch off the oven and leave everything in there while you finish off the spinach

18

Take the lid off the spinach and you’ll see it has shrunk beyond belief which is why I recommend you buy more than you think you’ll need

19

Drain it through a colander in the sink and then take an old saucer or small plate and press down hard on the spinach to force out as much of the liquid as possible

20

(You can do this to this stage a couple of hours in advance and in some ways that’s better, as it does give the spinach time to properly dry out)

21

Return the resulting green heap to the pan over a low light and move it around a bit more to drive off more liquid Turn up the heat to medium and add a couple of tablespoons of double cream or creme frâiche, heating until it bubbles and sizzles

22

Add black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg

23

Turn off the heat, plate up the fish and tomatoes put the potatoes and spinach in serving dishes - job done

Notes

This is colourful, healthy and not too expensive, especially if you replace the sweet potatoes with lentils or brown rice and leave out the Parma ham In truth, the method for this meal can be adapted for any firm fish such as cod or haddock and the spinach replaced by whatever green veg is in season, so do experiment and find your own speciality that you can produce with your eyes closed - or after a few aperitivi!

 

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A FACE ONLY A MOTHER COULD LOVE

I have been, as they say, unavoidably absent from these pages for the last few weeks as the builders began the work on the London flat and I had forgotten how much a big refurb project can take over your life. And it’s not the big stuff like choosing the kitchen and the bathrooms; it’s the small stuff. I was sitting on the Tube, quietly trying to read Jay Rayner and listen to Bach (what a pair) and I happened to glance up at the advertising. Normally quite safe, as the habitués of that space seem to mostly be wifi providers I’ve never heard of and dodgy looking money transfer outfits. Not this time; now I was invited to consider how meaningless my life would be without electrical sockets that have built in USB ports….what? Genius. Straight on to the builder, who has the patience of a saint. So you see, I haven’t been safe from the damned project even on the Tube. and I am trying to find all kinds of displacement activity to avoid choosing new door furniture. And tiles. And timber flooring. And paint colours…..so talking about the ugly sister of the vegetable world is a delight.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned celery, the Cinderella of the veg world, so let me introduce you to the ugly sister: celeriac. Honestly, it has a face only a mother could love, but it is, in this country at least, the unsung heroine of the vegetable world. I was delighted a couple of weeks ago to receive in my farmdrop.com order a complete plant, as per the picture. This was completely unexpected as normally in the UK, one only gets a trimmed root, which while less startling than the complete plant, still looks a bit like a turnip with a hangover. There the resemblance ends.

Every bit of a complete plant can be used, although there is a fair bit of waste when one trims the root. If you’re lucky enough to own a compost heap, then that isn’t a problem but it is important to trim off every bit of hairy root and any yellowing stalks or leaves. The stalks aren’t really bold enough to use raw, as in cultivation, the energy has gone into creating the lovely big root, but they are fine for using in soups or risotto (excellent in the latter with a morsel of Gorgonzola). The leaves can be used as a herb, so again good in soups, stuffings, risotto and with lentils, quinoa or cous cous.

The root, which is really the focus of this piece, makes wonderful soup but one of my very favourite things to do is put a whole celeriac, cut into chunks, under a roast chicken, mixed with garlic and thyme. I also put a couple of chunks inside the cavity with thyme and half a lemon, salt and pepper. When the chicken is done, keep the bird warm and put the roasting tin with all the celeriac and garlic gunk over a low flame (if there is a lot of fat, just pour most of it off), mix it up with a wooden spoon (the celeriac and garlic will be very soft by now), gradually add as much white wine as will make a deeply savoury sauce and simmer for a few minutes stirring all the while. A few green peppercorns won’t come amiss and although I have tried it with a spoonful of creme fraiche, for me, that’s gilding the lily. This isn’t a sophisticated dish but is very satisfying and people who have eaten this have always asked for the “recipe”. I think, however, that it is so simple as to barely qualify as a recipe, so it’s here and not written up as a recipe proper.

I also love celeriac incorporated with potato mash, but it does retain more water than potato, so I always steam it if I’m going to mash it. It’s also great as part of a platter of roast root veg; in particular it seems to pair and contrast well with roast parsnip (another less than lovely looking vegetable). Above all, it is stupendous in soup and the recipe that follows is wonderful. I can claim no credit for this, as I discovered it in the staff canteen where I worked; the chef was so pleased to have someone ask for a recipe you’d have thought it was his birthday. I have tweaked it a bit to please our palates more and despite the slightly unlikely combination of ingredients, do please give it a go. I promise you, it’s fab.

Celeriac, Coconut and Chilli Soup

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 normal people or 2 greedy ones Cooking Time: about an hour

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 900g of celeriac root, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 750ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • juice of a lime
  • 2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp lemon or ordinary thyme leaves, chopped finely
  • 1 green chilli deseeded and chopped
  • small bunch of fresh coriander, separated into stalk and leaves
  • 250 ml full fat milk (if you insist on using semi or skimmed milk, make something else)
  • 75g creamed coconut
  • grated zest of the lime

Instructions

1

Heat the butter and add the celeriac, cover and cook gently for about 10 minutes but don’t allow it to brown

2

Add the stock, lime juice, ginger, (lemon) thyme , chopped chilli and coriander stems

3

Bring just to the boil, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes

4

Add the milk and simmer uncovered for about another 15 minutes; you’re looking for the liquid to reduce but never boil

5

Remove from the heat, add the creamed coconut

6

Use a stick blender until you have a smooth soup; flecked with green from the chilli and coriander stems

7

Season as you please and garnish with grated lime zest and chopped coriander leaves

Notes

If, like me, you’re not too keen on coriander as a herb (love the seeds), use flat leaf parsley instead. Also feel free to use a different chilli and in fact, I have made this with dried crushed chilli. Both of these changes will alter the flavour slightly, but of course, it is still a delicious, warming soup that is a bit different.

 

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

CINDERELLA CELERY

I will come right out and say I love celery and its root, celeriac. Love them to bits and happily crunch away on both of them. But they have a bad reputation; the stalks seem forever associated with the deprivation of a rigid low calorie diets, and celeriac usually evokes a puzzled look and a comment about how ugly it is.

Wrong, just wrong. Good celery is a staple ingredient for soffritto in Italian cooking and mirepoix in the French canon but the critical word there was “good”. I am sorry to say that so much of what is sold in the UK comes from Spain and is weak, feeble and hollow. Honestly, I’ve had Spanish celery – and Israeli come to that – you could use as drinking straws. The stalks shouldn’t be hollow and yellowy, and a good head of celery will feel quite heavy for its size. Oh and smell fresh and very celery-ry.

It is true to say that there is both green and white celery, but don’t mistake pathetic yellowing specimens for the delicious blanched Fenland celery that can be had in the UK during November and December. This has a strong distinctive flavour and like asparagus, has a short season, so do make the most of it while we have it.

Green celery is available more widely but UK grown, flavourful celery seems mostly available September to April and I have it my fridge most weeks during that time, with an interregnum for the Fenland crop.

This unsung hero is just so useful; I put it in risotto, lentils, soups, quinoa, couscous, stews and casseroles, not to mention cutting short lengths, filling with Gorgonzola and dusting with paprika. I know it sounds a bit Abigail’s Party, but I love it! It also earns a place on a cheese board with grapes and figs, which frankly I prefer over biscuits after a meal. I also use the leaves chopped up as one would a herb, but go gently as the celery flavour is very concentrated here.

Anyway, the celery I had from https://thefoodassembly.com/en/assemblies/8012/products was just gorgeous and although a fair amount was eaten with the lovely Slipcote cheese, I had enough left for this lovely soup which has a distinctly celery flavour and is creamy in texture, without needing the addition of any dairy (although you can add it if you want to!).

Celery Soup

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 - 4 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 small/1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 150g celery stalks, chopped into slices about 0.5mm wide
  • 1 slim leek, washed, sliced in two lengthways, then sliced into slender half moons
  • leaves stripped from two sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 heaped tsp Marigold reduced salt bouillon
  • 1 litre hot water
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper

Instructions

1

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the onion and garlic

2

Allow to soften but not colour and add the remaining vegetables and thyme

3

Soften for about 15 minutes but do not allow to colour

4

Add the Marigold powder, mix in and then slowly add the water

5

Season and mix well, bringing to a simmer but don’t let it boil

6

Simmer gently with the lid askew for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft and can be easily squashed against the side of the pan

7

Cool slightly and use a stick blender to process until smooth; the addition of potato will give the soup a very smooth, almost creamy texture so you don’t have to add dairy to finish the soup

Notes

My favourite finish are garlic croutons and in the picture, you will see a small swirl of Jersey milk, but in truth, it was gilding the lily. This freezes well, but freeze minus any dairy you might want to use.

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

BAKED EGGS

This is such a simple recipe, I am wary of actually posting it but a good friend said that she’d never thought of it, so why not?

I think this is something that you can throw together from things you mostly have in the house anyway, plus the fact that you can add all kinds of bits you might find lurking in the fridge. I recently used a few scraps of left over Parma ham; any small pieces of salami are also good but I am reluctant to use anything fishy as i just can’t imagine how it might test. Although it might be good with lovely Morecambe Bay shrimps?

Apologies too, for the dayglo cheese; I was using up a bit of left over Red Leicester and it does come up bright! Tasted good though and that’s what counts.

Baked Eggs

Print Recipe
Serves: 1 Cooking Time: 8 - 9 minutes

Ingredients

  • scrap of butter for greasing
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • i small leek washed and sliced finely (or a small shallot finely chopped)
  • 1 large tomato, skinned and cut into 1cm dice
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 2 tbsp cream or creme frâiche
  • 2 tbsp grated cheese
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • small oven proof dish, buttered

Instructions

1

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C/160 fan and put in an oven tray to heat

2

Melt the butter in a small pan on a medium flame

3

Add the leeks and soften but don't allow to colour

4

Remove from the heat and drain well on crumpled kitchen paper (don't omit this step as to do so will render this dish too greasy)

5

Spread across the small dish

6

Add the tomato dice

7

Carefully break the eggs into the vegetables, without breaking the yolks

8

Drizzle over the cream and season, taking account of how salty the cheese is likely to be

9

Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs

10

Place the dish on the oven tray for about 8 minutes until the egg is set

11

Watch the egg yolk carefully - hard-boiled is not what we aiming for!

Notes

It easy to increase this to serve more than one person but I'd use individual dishes if you can. Serving could be messy from one large dish.

Autumn/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Uncategorized/ Winter

#SUPERMARKETSIESTA 2 AND A HALF

The idea for this blog came when I realised, after leaving my corporate life, how much food I was throwing away, if I had over-provisioned (that happened SO often). It was therefore a stark reminder of my old life when towards the end of last week I was faced with leeks, feta cheese, an astonishingly pretty striped aubergine, a couple of San Marzano tomatoes and the dregs of the carton of creme frâiche. A rummage in the dry goods drawer also revealed a sad, almost empty bag of pearl barley. This post therefore, is not quite episode 3 of Supermarket Siesta which follows later this week, but I felt did talk to the origin of this blog.

The weather had begun to feel more like autumn, although not yet cold enough to trigger my soup-making (although enough to make me feel like Kanga counting Roo’s vests). So what to make? When in doubt, consult Elizabeth David is my motto and after half an hour in her company, and an espresso, I had inspiration, although I have to say I made most of this up as I went along.

So here are two simple recipes that are quick, reasonably priced and can be dressed up and down to suit either a solo lunch or supper at home, or serve as starters or main courses. I have a number of vegetarian friends and these work well for them, although I’m still working with a limited repertoire for vegans. I don’t seem to be able to get past using eggs, cheese and butter; my fault I know and I probably need to find the time to do a whole lot more research.

I think the stuffed aubergines will be a regular through the autumn and winter and I’m looking forward to playing around with the flavours.

Stuffed Aubergines

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 40g uncooked weight pearl barley
  • 2 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped and chopped (I don’t always bother to chop as I don’t mind seeing the little leaves in the finished recipe)
  • 0.25 tsp ground cumin
  • finely grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1 dsp capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 40 - 50 g feta cheese
  • 2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • A greased oven tray

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees C/180 degrees fan

2

Set the pearl barley to cook over a moderate flame until al dente then drain

3

Cut out the flesh of the aubergine, chopping it into 1cm dice. Leave a slim shell of aubergine skin and set aside.

4

I find an old grapefruit knife remarkably useful for this operation. Try your best not to pierce the shell as it will leak horribly.

5

Heat the oil in a thick based pan and soften the shallot and garlic, without letting them colour

6

Add the aubergine flesh and cumin and cook until the aubergine begins to soften

7

Add the tomato, thyme and barley and mix well

8

Allow to simmer until the mixture is quite dry - the tomato juices must evaporate to stop the mixture being sloppy and also to intensify the flavours

9

Add the grated lemon zest and capers and check the seasoning

10

Fill the two aubergine shells, packing the mixture quite firmly

11

Crumble over the feta cheese and finish with the breadcrumbs

12

Cook for 25 - 30 minutes until the stuffing is hot, cheese melting and the aubergine shells a bit wrinkly

Notes

I prefer to eat this warm rather than hot and like it with either a simple green salad or buttered savoy cabbage. Feel free to experiment with the spices here; I can imagine cinnamon being good and to shake things in a different flavour direction, ground cardamom and/or fennel seeds. Just thought - dried porcini mushrooms, soaked and finely chopped could be good too.

Autumn/ Breakfasts & Brunches/ Desserts & Savouries/ Spring/ Summer/ Winter

BANANA EMERGENCY

I had a bit of a challenge to my Watchful principles last weekend, as I discovered three elderly bananas that were quite beyond eating “as is”, and for some reason I had neglected to eat most of the Discovery apples that had been delivered by Farmdrop.com. I can’t really explain that latter event, as I adore those apples and they have such a short season. It might have had something to do with my stuffing myself with a friend’s homegrown raspberries and the delivery, direct from Italy, of the most fragrant melon, another gift from a friend – lucky me!

Anyway, these poor apples had become a tad on the wizened side, so I made Spiced Apples (elsewhere on this site), not thinking they’d also come to the rescue in a banana emergency.

I have a fairly large collection of cookery and food books, together with favourite websites and years and years worth of good, old-fashioned clippings from magazines and newspapers. I wish I could tell you that the latter are in apple pie order and that I can lay my hands on exactly what I want in a trice. Nope. Not a hope. This lamentable lack of organisation came back to haunt me when I wanted to save these poor bananas from the bin and had a vague recollection of a good recipe from some years ago. I will cut a long and frustrating story short, by saying it took me nearly an hour to find what I wanted. Yes, there were other recipes more readily available, but stubbornly, I wanted that particular recipe that turned out to be snipped out of an American newspaper eleven years ago. It probably wouldn’t have taken me an hour if I had remained on task, but I kept discovering long forgotten gems, some of which revealed just how rusty my once fairly fluent French has become. Anyway, back to bananas.

The recipe is straightforward enough, in fact it is so simple it barely counts as cooking. Assuming, of course, one has all the ingredients…..now, I am an incurable recipe tweaker, except when it comes to cakes and baking generally. I don’t seem to have to same instinct for baking as I do for other areas of cookery, so tend to tweak only minor ingredients. I am not sure, however, it counts as minor when I discover I only have slightly more than half the required peeled weight of bananas. At this point I had greased the tin, was heating the oven and had weighed out all the other ingredients so opting out wasn’t an option. And Edoardo was expecting cake…….I sympathise, I get a bit like that when I’m expecting cheese…..

Anyway, for once I decided to tweak on a more major scale and made up the weight by using Spiced Apples that were drained of the juice that is inevitable with them. I did wonder if they would make it a bit too damp but decided to keep a close eye on the cake in the oven. For me, it is a minor miracle that it turned out perfectly: moist, light and full of flavour. I might even make this more often (cue for E’s eyes to light up – he complains he is cake-deprived normally).

I have written up what I did, but I suspect you could tinker around with the proportions, so long as it added up to 225g. And it wouldn’t have to be the Spiced Apple recipe; I might try it with raw grated apple and increase the spice content a bit. If you do try that, please let me know how it works out.

One last note; in the picture I was worried to see what looks like a lump of uncooked cake mixture but was relieved when it turned out to be a piece of apple!

I hope you enjoy this – we now call it “Leftovers Cake” but it’s not a very appetising title!

Spiced Banana and Apple Cake

Print Recipe
Serves: 10 Cooking Time: 45 - 60 minutes

Ingredients

  • butter for greasing the tin
  • 85g unsalted butter
  • 225g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 0.25 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 0.25 tsp grated nutmeg (or cinnamon, or a mixture of both)
  • 120g peeled weight ripe bananas
  • 105g drained Spiced Apples
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten in a cup
  • 100g roughly chopped walnuts
  • 1kg/2lb loaf tin, base and long sides lined and greased with butter

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 190 degrees/170 degrees fan

2

Melt the 85g butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat (it mustn’t colour) and allow to cool

3

Mash the bananas thoroughly and stir together with the apple

4

Stir in the sugar, eggs and melted butter

5

Sift in the flour, baking powder and bicarb, folding in carefully

6

Fold in the chopped walnuts

7

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin, giving it a smart tap on the work surface to eradicate any air pockets and smooth off the top

8

Bake in the oven for 45 - 60 minutes, testing with a skewer after 45 minutes.

9

This one was done after 50 minutes but I suspect the banana/apple proportion will influence the time

10

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove form the tin and cool on a wire rack

Autumn/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

#SUPERMARKETSIESTA 1

Not the most delicious looking dish perhaps, but I promise you, it is wonderful

No, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant either. But I was invited to an event in the far north of London (OK, it was near Moorgate Station but I live in Wimbledon so anything north of the Marylebone Road induces a nosebleed) that invited me to discover what it was all about.

It was worth the trek as happily, it was a convention of some of my favourite suppliers who were launching a mission to “challenge the UK public to shake up part of their weekly shop – switching from supermarkets to specialists” (taken from their marketing material) for the month of September.

Now, I am already a huge devotee of farmdrop.com who supply the most wonderful fruit & veg, fish, meat, bread & cakes and fresh pasta from small local suppliers, so it was a delight to meet the lovely Lucy and gifted Beth (a semi finalist in Masterchef who now masters the Farmdrop social media content and cooks, too). More about them later, but I was also introduced to pongcheese.co.uk I am afraid to say that Edoardo and I were a little less than restrained with the sampling of their fabulous cheese; we will be ordering from them so I’ll write about that later this month.

Edoardo is already a devotee of HotelChocolat.com so was happy to sample their luxurious chocolate and by luxurious, I don’t necessarily mean expensive – it is the flavours and inspired combinations that denote luxury here. Chocolate is not my weakness so I went back to the cheese zone, via FishforThought.co.uk where I sampled fresh crab – one of my favourites, and nakedwines.com Regrettably I might have sampled there just a tad over-enthusiastically so I needed more cheese to mop it up…..that’s my excuse anyway.

I am also not going to sit here and criticise all supermarkets, but increasingly they are NOT a good place to buy your fresh food. In my view, they place far too much emphasis on visual appeal and how easy it is to pack food. I guess for them, life is easier if all tomatoes or apples or whatever are of a uniform size, making packaging and general logistics more predictable and thus cost-controllable. As shoppers though, we perhaps have to take some of the blame for this obsession with the perfect tomato; a tomato’s perfection should be assessed by its flavour, not the fact that it looks shiny and perfect. The British by and large don’t shop with their noses – how may times have you observed someone in a supermarket sniff a melon to see if it’s ripe? Unless you’ve seen me, I’d say quite rarely. And how can we sniff a tomato if the poor wretched things are imprisoned in a plastic box and wrapped in cellophane? Never mind, they look good so that’s all right then!

I do have some sympathy with supermarkets when the media coverage tends to focus solely on their price competitiveness, so they find themselves in a race to the bottom. And back also to my lament that wanting to have good food, fairly priced is somehow seen as elitist or the province of the chatterati in the UK. No, it isn’t, the less you have to spend on food, the less you can afford to be taken in by supermarkets; the less you have to spend on food, the more you need to be able to cook a few basics like soup, casseroles, anything eggy and bread. And I don’t buy the time objection either, but you do need to be organised and prepared to learn. Rant over…..

Anyway, to go back to the challenge issued by these great producers, Edoardo and I decided to see if we could eat for a whole day using fresh ingredients only from these guys. I planned the menus for Sunday which also prompted me to try an Italian dish I ate once years ago and have wanted to attempt myself ever since. Here’s what we ate last Sunday:

Breakfast

Jersey milk yogurt & blueberries
Cafone sourdough toast with unsalted butter

Lunch
Chargrilled courgettes and aubergine with crumbled feta cheese
Rosemary focaccia

Dinner
Beetroot tortelloni with sage butter and poppy seeds
Loin of pork in milk (recipe later – don’t be deterred by the title, it’s scrumptious)
Boiled potatoes
Chard
Apple tart with creme fraiche (Edoardo had room for this – I didn’t!)

All these came from farmdrop.com and my bill was £37.00 and did several meals: the chargrilled veg, left over pork and potatoes were all upcycled into delicious meals today and the bread will last for several days. The sourdough comes in a huge 800g loaf that goes in the freezer on day three and is perfect for a week or so. The focaccia is so good that I’m afraid that despite the fact it arrives in a monster 400g slab, it doesn’t last more than two days so never sees the freezer!

I have virtually shopped this same list with from a supermarket’s on line shop (no, not saying which one!) and the bill came to £41.77; several ingredients were not available as organic and I couldn’t get Jersey milk yogurt. I also know that the supply chain is far shorter with Farmdrop and the producer gets a fairer cut of the money, which matters hugely to me. I shop mainly organic because I have concerns about animal welfare and again, I know with Farmdrop, I can be easier in my mind about that.

We both also said that the quality of the food was considerably better, so we are going to continue using Farmdrop.com and before anyone asks, no, I receive no remuneration or other consideration from them – I just want good food, honestly priced and sourced and they hit the spot.

So, on to the recipe with this blog. Loin of pork in milk sounds hideous but please trust me when I say it is absolutely scrumptious. If you like a deeply savoury, umami flavour then this is the dish for you. The milk renders down into a dark, double cream that is glossy and chestnut coloured; the meat becomes tender and can be cut with a spoon. It is simple but does need an eye kept on it, so best to cook it when you can be near the kitchen every 20 – 30 minutes. It is also very rich, so I recommend keeping the accompaniments very simple; plain rice or potato and a leafy green vegetable go well. Please, buy the best quality pork you can find; something sitting on a blue polystyrene tray in a chiller cabinet won’t cut it. It is easier to carve if you buy a boned, rolled loin but I do prefer the extra flavour that is there when the bone is present. It’s not that much harder to carve if you loosen the meat away from the bone first and of course, use a surgically sharp knife! This recipe also calls for the joint to be skinless and this is also easy to do with the properly sharp knife. Just cut the string, slice off the rind as close to the skin as possible and roll and tie it up again. I keep the rind in the freezer to add to beef casseroles later in the winter for extra depth of flavour.

Loin of Pork in Milk

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 Cooking Time: 2 hours

Ingredients

  • 1kg loin of skinless free range organic pork
  • 2 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 25g butter
  • 550ml whole organic milk (please don’t try this with semi- or skimmed milk, it won’t work)
  • bay leaf
  • sprig of thyme or rosemary
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper

Instructions

1

Use a thick based casserole or stout pan, just large enough to hold the meat

2

Heat the butter and oil until the foaming point is subsiding and then add the meat, initially fat side down

3

Brown all sides of the meat and turn down the heat if the butter becomes dark brown or if it smells too nutty

4

Season and gently add the milk - I usually take the pan off the heat momentarily to do this and avoid sudden eruptions - followed by the bay leaf and your choice of herb

5

Allow the milk to slowly come to the boil and then turn the heat own to a gentle simmer

6

Put on the lid, slightly askew and simmer for about 2 hours

7

Every 30 minutes or so, turn the meat and in the meantime, keep an eye or ear out for overboiling

8

You might need to add a little more milk

9

After about the first hour, the milk will start to change colour and also create little clusters that will gradually also go a golden brown - don’t worry, it’s not curdling

10

Once you can easily pierce the meat with a fork, remove it to a carving board or dish and cover with foil to keep warm

11

While this is happening, draw off the surface fat from the milk mixture but do be careful not to rob yourself of any delicious nutty clusters

12

Stir quite vigorously and if you prefer to thin it a little, add a couple of tablespoons of warm water; ensure you loosen all the scrummy bits adhering to the base of the pan

13

Discard the bay leaf and herbs

14

Cut the string on the meat and slice into medium thick slices, arrange on a platter and pour over the sauce

Notes

As I’ve said, you might want to keep accompaniments simple and any first course could be vegetable based, for example Piedmont peppers or chargrilled courgettes with basil. Having said that, last Sunday we preceded it with a small portion of pasta, so anything non meat based can work.

Autumn/ Books & Blogs/ Equipment/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

HOW IT ALL STARTED

When I married in 1978 (stupidly young and it didn’t last….), I knew kitchens existed but wasn’t entirely sure what went on in them. I knew food emerged but had no idea how it happened. Didn’t do “Domestic Science” at school as I was in the stream that did Latin and French, both of which I have to say, have been remarkably useful. It now enrages me to think that learning to cook was (and might still be in some schools) regarded as less demanding than learning languages.  Better I don’t get started on that one; it is probably a whole other post.

Shortly after becoming engaged my wise mother, fearing that my husband would have to live on toast, bought me the Delia Smith Complete Cookery Course, which in those days came in three paperback volumes. In truth, I wasn’t terribly impressed with that as an engagement present (what an ungrateful creature I was) but when I finally opened the first volume, something in me blossomed and food became an enduring passion. I am also terribly attached to some of the books and equipment that I bought or was given in those early days. I still have (see picture) the very first wooden spoon I was given and the casserole in the same picture is now over 35 years old and.

In some quarters, it is now fashionable to decry Delia and whilst I no longer cook from her books, she did teach me the basics, allowed me to start cooking edible meals (and then good meals) and for me, best of all, that edition included a Bibliography! One of my other passions is books and reading (to the point that when I met Edoardo, we realised that consolidating our homes would mean accommodating over 5,000 books), so pointing me to other writers and cooks was just bliss.

Now, for me, this is where a deep, enduring love of food, cooking and its social and political history started. The first person I investigated from Delia’s bibliography was Elizabeth David and for me, this was when I really began to understand flavours, textures and the simple joy of good food eaten seasonally with minimal interference. I think I was a little in awe of her in the way I never was with Delia, but I as grew older and matured myself, Mrs David’s (never, just never Elizabeth) approach to much in life resonated with me.

The second aspect of Mrs David’s writing that spoke to me was the sheer poetry of it. Should you doubt this, may I refer you to the first two paragraphs of her chapter on Fish in “Italian Food”. The description of the Rialto fish market takes me straight back there every time I read it. She makes me not just see it but smell and hear it, too.

It has probably also taken me some years to understand how brave Mrs David was to publish her first book in 1950 post war Britain, when food was still rationed and olive oil was something requested in the chemist’s to sort out wax in one’s ears. Can you imagine the reaction of people being asked to cook with something they regarded as medicinal? I also have huge sympathy for the early brave devotees of Mrs David – I cannot begin to think what it must be like to cook without olive oil, lemons, garlic, spices and fresh herbs; for those intrepid cooks, the frustration must have been enormous.
That first book, “A Book of Mediterranean Food” is still amongst my most referred to and certainly takes the prize for the most bespattered pages (none of my foods books is pristine – if I come across one it usually means it was rubbish and, no, am NOT naming names!). It is a continual source of inspiration, not dogmatically but as a jumping off point for interpreting her recipes.

There are points upon which I depart from her advice; for example, adding oil to water for cooking pasta is nonsense. It will just float there on top while the water boils away, doing its job and ignoring the oil. You are therefore wasting precious oil and thus money. I know there are people who swear by this, but I have never come across an Italian who does it and when I enquired, was met with a sigh of resignation indicating that the craziness of the British in the kitchen should never be underestimated. She also says pasta can take up to 20 minutes to cook. Nope, not unless you like wallpaper paste.

When she speaks of meat and fish, however, she remains for me definitive and whilst I have adjusted her recipes to suit my taste, her basic advice and method remain unaltered. As we approach the cooler months of the year, I’d like to share with you my version of her Daube de boeuf provencale. It is easy, if not cheap, but does serve 6, or fewer with left overs and smells utterly divine while cooking. It is a recipe that denotes for me the arrival of autumn, as I always seem to make it in September after the lighter foods of summer.

Daube de boeuf provencale

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 2.5 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 kg top rump of beef, cut into squares about 7/8cm and 8mm thick (I always buy the beef in the piece and cut it myself to get the right sized pieces)
  • 175g unsmoked streaky bacon or pancetta, sliced into strips
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
  • 2 medium onions sliced into half moon slices
  • 2 tomatoes, skinned and sliced (you can use tinned and then use the rest to make soup as a first course)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed under the blade of your knife
  • bouquet garni (I use a piece of celery with a bay leaf, a generous amount of thyme and parsley and if possible, a large slice of orange peel, sans pith, tied up with kitchen string and anchored to the handle of the casserole)
  • a (very) generous glass of red wine, French if possible, but use what you have
  • salt and freshly milled ground pepper

Instructions

1

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C/130 fan

2

In the bottom of a thick based, heat retaining pot (I use an ancient and much loved le Creuset casserole) pour in the olive oil, the bacon or pancetta, then the vegetables and then layer the meat slices, overlapping them slightly. Bury the garlic and bouquet garni in the centre.

3

Season and with an uncovered pan, start cooking over a moderate flame for about ten minutes

4

In a separate pan, heat the wine until at a lively boil and set it alight

5

Once the flames have died down, pour the bubbling wine over the meat mixture

6

Cover VERY tightly (I add a layer of tightly clamped tin foil before the casserole lid) and out in the oven for about 2.5 hours

7

I like to add pitted, black olives about half an hour before the end of the cooking time

8

It might not seem that you start with much liquid here, which is true, but long, slow cooking will produce a fragrant, delicious dish for so very little effort.

9

Although I am usually all for saving on the washing up, I do like to serve this in the traditional way on a wide shallow platter, having extracted the bouquet garni, poured the sauce around the meat and garnished with persillade of finely chopped garlic and parsley, or a few capers and a couple of chopped anchovies

10

This goes well with wild red rice or plain boiled potatoes

Notes

As there is no pre-browning of the meat, this is wonderful for a slow cooker, but do try to find time to flame the wine. I have to confess that I have on occasions made do with just heating the wine, as I am not always at my brightest before my first cup of coffee in the early morning. Flames in my kitchen prior to coffee is a tad alarming for me. Anyway, the upshot is that it is subtly different without the flaming trick, but not worse. Just different.

Autumn/ Breakfasts & Brunches/ Desserts & Savouries/ Spring/ Summer/ Winter

APPLES OF MY EYE

If you were to ask me, I think the first fruit I can remember eating is an apple. I also seem to think of them as always having been around all year, whereas when I was a child, fruit definitely had its season. Strawberries are irretrievably linked to tennis for me and their fragrance reminds me of my mother being glued to the (black and white!) TV during Wimbledon. Tangerines, as they were then, were Christmas, although we seem to see every variation on small citrus now.

Is there, however, more of a workhorse of the fruit bowl than an apple? Admittedly bananas work hard for their living too, but it terms of sheer versatility, the humble apple wins out every time for me.

Sadly, this very versatility led to this unsung hero being bred for volume, size and keeping qualities. We went through a very low period in the seventies and eighties when, unless you grew your own, eating apples were frankly pretty grim. The average supermarkets offered Golden Delicious, Macintosh Red and Granny Smith. Personally I find all of these unpleasant as raw eaters, either because of flavour or texture, but Golden Delicious and Granny Smith do cook well.

Many of the old British, French and Italian species became at risk as producers grubbed up old orchards to plant more profitable types. Mercifully, and largely because of the efforts of Slow Food and in the UK, the Royal Horticultural Society and its members, some enlightened retailers (take a bow, Waitrose) and a general increase in the public’s demand for flavour, many breeds were brought back from the brink.

It is now relatively easy to find scrumptious seasonal apples such as Discovery, although until I started to do some research around this lovely apple, I didn’t realise it is in fact a modern fruit. It was found in the late 1940’s in Langham, Essex and is a child of the luscious Worcester Pearmain. I absolutely adore the fragrant crispness and almost strawberry-like flavour of the Discovery, BUT it is a seasonal being and in fact becomes flabby in both texture and flavour if stored for too long. They tend also to be a tad inconsistent in size but frankly this doesn’t bother me and I actually enjoy the process of selecting the individual apples that appeal to me.

Another fragrant apple that I love is Pink Lady; it is also a modern apple, developed in the late 20th Century, in Western Australia, from a liaison between Golden Delicious and Lady Williams. It has the remarkable capacity to be consistent and until recently, I don’t think I have ever had a disappointing Pink Lady. That changed recently when I had some quite unpleasant Argentinian apples – the texture was too mealy for me. Perhaps they had been stored too long. And did you know that Pink Lady is a trademark? I didn’t; her horticultural handle is Cripps Pink and she has an equally lovely cousin called Sundowner (also a trademark), who is horticulturally Cripps Red. She, however, is not so easy to find.

In terms of other modern apples, Jazz is a likeable apple that works well in the Spiced Apple recipe below. Oh and this is another apple that operates under a nom de guerre; it is really Scifresh.

Braeburn is another apple that you will see in quantity in supermarkets and it was an apple in the right place at the right time. It became commercially viable at a point when the public wanted more in terms of flavour than Golden Delicious or Granny Smith could provide. At best, it is a crisp, fragrant and deeply flavoured apple. It does however, to my mind, have a major flaw and that is that it is hugely variable in terms of quality. Personally, I have had too many Braeburn disappointments. Rather than waste them, however, if you are unfortunate enough to have a disappointing batch, use them for the Spiced recipe and just up the spices!

The last eating apple that I want to talk about it is the wonderful Cox’s Orange Pippin. This is an older fruit, developed, it is said in 1825, and with many progeny. I love these apples when they are in prime season, becoming a tad mealy when old. That is though, a wonderful reason to eat seasonally, as it is at its best when from British orchards.
You may wonder why I have not mentioned the noble Bramley Apple in this post. Well, it is indeed a noble apple with an impeccable history of service in the kitchen. I stopped using it quite so ubiquitously when I made a conscious decision to reduce the amount of sugar I use in cooking. As I started to use other apples, I also realised that I actually prefer to eat my cooked apples when they have retained some shape and I can still see the slices. Don’t get me wrong, if I making apple sauce for roast pork, I would still use a Bramley as I do like a cloud of fluffy apple in those circumstances.

Spiced Apples

Print Recipe
Cooking Time: About an hour including prep

Ingredients

  • 6 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices about 2mm thick
  • juice and finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon (I like to peel this with a potato peeler and then cut into julienne strips; you may have a julienne cutter but either way, I like clearly defined strips of lemon peel)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 3 pieces of star anise
  • 1 large stick of cinnamon, broken in two
  • half teaspoon of powdered cinnamon

Instructions

1

Put everything into a thick based pan or casserole and simmer gently for about 30 minutes

2

Stir occasionally and watch that it doesn’t catch

3

You may need to add a small quantity of water, depending on how juicy the orange is

4

The final result should be tender but still well shaped slices, with a slightly syrupy juice

5

This is scrumptious hot, warm and cold and I serve it with either ice cream, creme fraiche or yogurt

6

It makes a fabulous filling for a pie or a crumble and can have all kinds of ingredients added (see above)

7

Edoardo is fond of this for breakfast with yogurt and seeds and I have to say I agree with him.

Notes

This recipe rose out of necessity. I had a bag of eating apples (I think they were Braeburns, but can’t actually remember), I had tried one as a raw eater but it wasn’t terribly pleasant. Well, I was at the outset of watching my budget and my conscience, so it was unthinkable to just discard the other five or so apples, even for the benefit of our local birds and foxes. I didn’t want to shop specifically for anything else to make these apples edible so instead I rummaged in the pantry. I think I have said before that pantry is a metaphor - I would dearly love a larder but have to make do with two large drawers and two shelves as my pantry. One day……. Anyway, this recipe is made from ingredients I nearly always have in store, but I have found that I can experiment with this and use sultanas, raisins, seeds, dried apricots, prunes to add flavour to apples. This is also an extremely economical recipe if you make this with blemished apples which are often sold in supermarkets for very low prices, so do experiment. Also, you can make this with however many apples you happen to have, just scale the other ingredients up or down. It also freezes well for about three months. In truth, it so simple I feel a bit of a fraud posting it here, but friends I’ve shared it with have all liked it and mostly said “oh I never thought of doing that…”, so I’m hoping it’s not too much of a fraud!

Autumn/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

GREEK-ISH SALAD

We love wild red rice but gosh, it’s expensive! If you find cheap wild rice, I’d look very carefully at the contents as you may find that there is a small percentage of the contents mingled in with cheaper rice. My favourite is Organico Wild Red Rice, grown by the Picco family in the northern Po valley. The first time I encountered the rice fields of northern Italy, I felt as if I had been whizzed off to Asia, as I found it a strange experience to encounter this landscape in Europe, but of course this crop has been grown in Italy for centuries. The Rice Exchange in Vercelli is testament to the business – don’t be deceived by the modernity of the building; there has been an Exchange in Vercelli for centuries.

Flying over the rice fields of Northern Italy exposes the lattice of man made irrigation canals that date back, for the most part, to the mid 1800s but I have written elsewhere, at some length (too long – Edoardo) about the fascinating history of rice cultivation in northern Italy, so I shall shut up here. If you are interested in reading about the hows and whys of rice in Italy, nip over to the pages called Riso con Riso.

Anyway, back to the food. Saturday dinner was roast cod, peperonata, spinach and wild red rice. We have left-overs of rice and of peperonata, so what to do? The peperonata was easy as it makes a scrumptious if unconventional sauce for pasta. It works better if the peppers are sliced smaller – easily done in the pan with a wooden spoon if the peppers have been cooked for long enough – and I add more chopped basil. A suggestion of chilli (dried is perfectly fine) can also change the character of the dish so that it doesn’t feel quite so like left-overs.

The rice sat in its dish, staring balefully at me. I suppose there might have been a couple of heaped tablespoons so not a huge amount but no way was it going in the bin. Or even out for the birds…it’s May, they’re not starving. So, after a rummage in the fridge, a sort of Greek salad emerged.

Greekish_salad

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 Cooking Time: half an hour or less

Ingredients

  • Left-over red rice - about two or three heaped tablespoons
  • 1 large salad onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 3cm piece of cucumber, peeled and chopped into 5mm dice (I also take out the wet seedy bit in the middle but up to you)
  • Half a red pepper, again chopped into 5mm dice
  • Half a dozen green olives, sliced into rings (they were already pitted)
  • About twenty chives, scissored into 2mm pieces
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley - about two tablespoons
  • Finely grated zest of half a lemon
  • 100 g (ish) feta ( I happened to have some Waitrose barrel aged left but use what you have)
  • Half a large clove of fresh garlic, crushed with sea salt under the blade of a knife
  • Black pepper
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Olive oil - about four or five tablespoons

Instructions

1

Mix the ingredients together using a fork rather than a spoon (means you won’t break the grains), to ensure even distribution and then mix up the dressing, tasting as you go.

Notes

We like small pieces in a salad like this, and I prefer the vegetables to be proportion to the size of the rice grains, but frankly that’s just my preference. If you like bigger chunks, use them! Also, use what you have in the fridge and in truth, on another day, this may have looked very different. I can imagine using left over broccoli, asparagus, grated carrot, walnuts, toasted pine nuts, orange in place of lemon (in which case, I think black olives would be lovely) and replacing the feta with shredded cold chicken, duck (oh yes - lovely with black olives and orange) or beef. It could be spiced with a scrape of cinnamon and sultanas for cold lamb…..I could go on and fear I might, so I shall stop and go and eat it. I am thinking that a glass of cold white wine (a personal favourite is Gavi) might go quite well……..