The kitchen crusader

I love food more than anything and I'm really bossy in the kitchen. I was brought up to care about food. I rant about it a lot. Food makes or breaks my day. I can't understand people who don't care about what they eat. I once cooked in a former job and I dream of cooking in a future one.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
what I ate last: Mussels and clams and winkles, alive alive-o

Ah. Five days on the West Coast of Scotland. No mobile phone reception. No internet. Not a single light to be seen from the windows at night. And a hundred yards below us on the beach, mussels and winkels in abundance to be picked, and clams to be ferreted out, and even one glorious, huge oyster.

We shopped in Fort William after getting off the sleeper and bought an enormous leg of lamb, some steaks, oxtail and a ritual haggis alongside plenty of veg and booze. We were amazed to find that, at the end of the trip totting up our spending, over five days we had only spent £50 each on food and enough alcohol to make us all into shrieking banshees by 1am every night. So a pretty cheap trip, and we ate very well - even if I do say so myself, having ensconced myself firmly in the kitchen and beating away intruders with a wooden spoon. And we had virtually nothing left to throw away at the end. Its amazing how economically you can eat if you actually cook every day and so use up all your leftovers.

Day 1: Pasta with proper tomato sauce for lunch, with salad
Roast lamb with roast potatoes, spring greens and salad for supper

Day 2: Bacon, eggs, tomato and beans on toast for breakfast
Winkles, then cold roast lamb for lunch with salad, braised leeks with tomato, cheese and a baked potato
Steaks with saute potatoes, stir-fried carrots and savoy cabbage, and salad for supper

Day 3: Mushrooms on toast with cheese for breakfast
Spaghetti vongole followed by a veritable vat of moules marinieres for lunch
Shepherd's pie, spring greens and salad for supper

Day 4: Toast and peanut butter and various bits and pieces for breakfast
Smoked salmon sandwiches, hot cross buns and oranges for lunch (half-way up a mini mountain)
Fried haggis followed by slow-cooked oxtail casserole (containing carrots and potatoes) with stir-fried savoy cabbage and leeks

Day 5: Smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, bacon and tomato for breakfast
Spaghetti with mussels in tomato sauce and salad with cheese for lunch
....and back home on the sleeper....

Don't you wish you were with us! Precious fat juicy clams picked off the beach, shining glossy winkles and so many mussels we cooked enough for about ten people. Oh so good. We even tried to fish for brown trout and I'm sure would have had success if we'd stuck at it longer, and there are nets to be cast over the mouth of little burns, crabs, lobsters, all sorts of hidden joys. I want to move there and live off foraged food forever.

posted at 6:25 PM  13 comments
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Tuesday, April 04, 2006
what I ate last: Roast pork and turnips

We've just enjoyed the leftovers of a rather successful Sunday lunch straight out of the legendary St John cookbook. Roast pork with turnips, anchovies and garlic. Off to the market on Sunday morning, before the rush, to pick up a generous (and not entirely cheap) joint of organic pork, and some turnips with their greens still intact from the Taj Stores on Brick Lane. The idea of dressing turnips with anchovies, lots of mashed roast garlic, parsley, oil and red wine vinegar sounds like it will end up very strong, but in fact the end result was delightfully subtle - a kind of mellow yet vaguely piquant warm salad almost, to go with a simply roasted piece of good meat. A few new potatoes tucked in around the pork at half-time and the whole thing was perfect for a Sunday lunch with beautiful April sunshine and showers playing outside.

The dressing is really utterly simple. For a generous three-person portion (around four medium to large turnips and their greens) I used half a tin of anchovies, a dozen roasted garlic cloves squished out of their skins, a decent glug of red wine vinegar and olive oil, and a fair handful of rough-chopped parsley. When the turnips are nearly done, add the greens (chopped into reasonable lengths), give them a couple of minutes and then drain thorougly before adding to the dressing in a nice serving bowl and letting it all mingle together.

Tonight, with the left over (delicious) cold pork, some salad and toast, I used up the last two turnips in the same way but cheated by not roasting the garlic and only adding one crushed clove to the dressing. I know Fergus Henderson would disapprove of the short-cut (as the only cookery writer who includes recipes taht take weeks to complete) but it worked pretty well to my simple tastes.

posted at 8:38 AM  2 comments
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Tuesday, March 21, 2006
what I ate last: gnocchi and tomato sauce

I've written about making gnocchi before, so I won't repeat the recipe. But tonight some left-over mashed potato and some tomato sauce from the freezer made a delicious supper without me spending a penny on it. And I remembered to take a photo of the gnocchi just to encourage y'all to do it...

There's nothing quite like homemade gnocchi - forget those glutinous bullets that come in vacuum packs - and there are hardly any simpler things. They take about ten minutes to make and two to cook. Do it!

posted at 8:29 PM  1 comments
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Monday, March 20, 2006
what I ate last: pot-roast pheasant, red cabbage and mash

In my newly co-habitating state, I have a renewed realisation of quite what a kitchen crusader (some might say kitchen bully) I really am. Certain little habits: from traits about how to cut up certain vegetables through to my general preference for being the cook rather than the bystander, reading or working while someone else takes control of the food department. The other night a risotto was on the cards, which was supposedly to be cooked by the boy (and he is capable of making a fine risotto, though taught to do so by me, I do believe). But even before any chopping began I had taken the whole affair right out of his hands.

I have an infallible sense of self-belief that I can cook virtually anything better than anyone else, and that other people will inevitably do something that they consider just fine but actually will ruin the dish to my refined tastes. I watch others 'disobey' my strict rules on certain things (how to make a pasta sauce being a particular fetish) and twitch uncomfortably, thinking to myself how they are ruining a perfectly lovely set of ingredients.

The only things I willingly delegate to the poor boy are roasts, and potatoes. I'm a rather useless cook of traditional roast potatoes for some reason - I can do a kind of Italian style roast new potatoes, in a tray with some jointed chicken and fennel for example, but not your real English ones, crispy outside, slightly caramelised around the edges, to go with a real roast joint or bird. He gets to make mashed potatoes a lot too - he's a better masher than me (more patient) as well as a more expert hand at all the other additives that go into making a fine mash. He's also carving out a niche for himself in the pudding department, as I generally can't be arsed to deal with that end of the meal.

But tonight was another classic kitchen crusader moment, as we got a pheasant out of the freezer for our Sunday supper. His suggestion about cooking it was kindly but firmly (and probably rather patronisingly) put down by me in favour of my much better idea - to pot-roast the bird nestled in a bed of braised red cabbage. And it was damn good, if you ask me. But I did let him make the mash.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006
what I ate last: A very odd collection of things

Yesterday at the market in my lunchbreak, again contemplating supper, my eye was caught by far too many good-looking things. Bunches of baby artichokes, with long stems and leaves; mizuna; the dramatic scorzanera roots; bundles of raazor clams, their bodies lazily poking out like tongues onto the ice; langoustines. I resisted all those on the basis of economy, but I couldn't resist the purple sprouting broccoli, my absolute favorite vegetable. So good. And then on the fish stall, I saw cods' roes all laid out for a cheap price, and remembered the delicious recipe I'd read in 'guru' Slater's book for real taramasalata, so I bought one of those. Then cheese from Neal's Yard (we get a fantastic discount due to working in the same building) and an oak-leaf lettuce, and some beautiful rhubarb stems. I didn't want any meat after the previous night's poussin and quite a lot of eating out this week.

I didn't really have a plan for how all these things might hang together as a meal - it was just what I felt like tasting in my mouth. (By the way, on my way back to the office I think I actually saw guru Slater himself right outside our door, loading himself and a cake from Konditor and Cook onto his scooter. Does anyone know if he really does have a scooter? Anyway, he looked exactly like his picture.) I picked up a huge loaf of bread from Flour Power at 6pm, when everything becomes half price and they give you loads more for free, and I figured I would just sort it all out later.

Fast-forward a few hours to the incredible, soul-eating humger that descends after a couple of after-work pints without anything in your belly. Rushing home back into the kitchen, I open Nigel's book to the tarama and realise I've made a schoolboy error. Raw cod roes, not the smoked ones. Stupid! What to do? Starving, I throw them into a frying pan and saute them, then decide to go for a sort-of tarama after all, crushing them up with garlic, plenty of lemon and salt and pepper for a sort of spread. Meanwhile, the broccoli get briefly steamed, bread gets cut and toasted, and we descend on the table and cram everything into our mouths.

Actually, the weird cod roe spread wasn't bad at all. If I had been less frantic, I think raw onion would have been a better addition than the garlic - more tart and fresh. The broccoli was divine. We polished it all off and then recollected some calm. A salad was made, cheese came out onto a plate, red wine poured and we started to talk rather than just eat. But still, I forgot entirely about the rhubarb, so that is simmering away as I write now, ready for our lunch.

posted at 12:43 PM  0 comments
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what I ate last: Poussins with tarragon, wild mushroom sauce, mash and spring greens (from 8th March)

At the market in my lunchbreak, considering what to have for dinner, I found a row of poussins for £2 each. Rather a bargain, I thought. We had spuds and some lovely pyramidal spring greens at home, and in the Bengali supermarket on Brick Lane, of all places, I found a bunch of tarragon. I absolutely love tarragon chicken, and haven't had it for ages. In fact, I realised I hadn't eaten chicken at all for a long time, somehow it being displaced by cravings for wintry red meat, and then the craving for fish thaat comes when too much red meat has been consumed.

The poussins, with a generous amount of tarragon pushed under the skin, roasted up a treat in 40 minutes, and they were perfectly succulent, the legs pulling away from the body with ease. While the birds were cooking, I soaked a few pieces of dried porcini that I always seem to have hanging around, and while they rested, I stirred them and their liquid into the pan, scraping up all the yummy bits, making a rather classy sauce which made me feel very smart, given that my propensity to do anything other than spash a glass of wine into a sticky pan is normally nil. With a pile of mash (a little garlicky from a couple of cloves boiled with the spuds) and crunchy, bright greens, it was a super Thursday night supper, and as super-easy as it gets.

posted at 12:35 PM  0 comments
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what I ate last: beef and chocolate (from 2nd March)

Not together, I hasten to add. But rather, a sublime piece of beef, simply roasted, which was perhaps the most succulent and tender, melting piece of that animal I had ever tasted, with perfect roast potatoes and slightly crunchy braised red cabbage. The beef came from the countryside, hacked off from a vast slab of the stuff that the butcher brought round one Saturday to the kitchen door, and it was absolutely amazing. And then, it was followed by the baked chocolate pudding out of Nigel Slater's kitchen diaries, perfectly translated. The girls swooned. And the best bit about it? With the exception of the cabbage and a green salad, it was all made by the boy.

posted at 12:26 PM  0 comments
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Sunday, February 26, 2006
what I ate last: oatcakes

I don't know what's gotten into me recently. Baking, all of a sudden. I made cheese scones last Sunday and today, my first oatcakes. Next it'll be soda bread for breakfast every day...or maybe not...

I scratched around the kitchen, slightly hungover, looking for something to eat for lunch and found not much - some lettuce for a salad, and a quarter of a nice tangy goats cheese but no bread or biscuits to eat it with. Being in a somewhat oaty mood at the moment (porridge is breakfast of choice) oatcakes occurred to me...and a quick google revealed that they should be easy and fast to make with what I had in the cupboard.

And indeed they were spectacularly easy and quick and will definitely be repeated. The recipe is an amalgamation of various found online and my own common sense. The recipes all called for plain wholemeal flour and a pinch of bicarbonate of soda, but the one thing I didn't have was the soda so I substituted half self-raising flour into the wholemeal and it worked fine. Briefly - 2oz oats (mine were jumbo so I whizzed them in the blender to make them a little finer), 2 oz wholemeal flour + the soda or 1 oz each wholemeal and selfraising, decent pinch of salt, mix in a bowl, add a tablespoon shortening/lard (I didn't have so used olive oil, again not a problem) and around 5 tablespoons boiling water, mix into a stiff dough, roll out fairly thin (1/8 inch-ish), cut out whatever shapes you want, bake in a preheated 200C oven on a greased sheet for 10 minutes. Couldn't really be easier.

While they baked, I did the washing up, made a salad dressing, got out a plate and the cheese; and while the oatcakes cooled on a rack for a couple of minutes, I spun the salad, assembled and hey presto, instant yummy lunch and a successful new recipe for the collection.

posted at 1:49 PM  1 comments
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Thursday, February 23, 2006
what I ate last: Spaghetti with savoy cabbage, potatoes and melting cheese

For tonight's supper I have my mother to thank, who sent me a clipping with the kernel of this recipe on it. A northern Italian concoction, and very delicious for this time of year, a satisfying supper on a cold February night. Potatoes and pasta might seem a starch overdose, but you need very little potato, just enough to produce a change in texture in the dish and to adhere deliciously to the melting cheese. You could probably use chard instead of cabbage but again, the texture of the savoy, with its bite and nutty, nubbly flavour is rather perfect.

Its also an economical dish to make in terms of washing up. I started off by cutting the potatoes (only two small-ish ones, and I made what was probably enough sauce for two although I gobbled it all myself) into inch cubes and putting them in a big pan of water to cook. Then, in a deep heavy frying pan, plenty of rough-chopped garlic (I prefer it not so thinkly sliced that it burns but in thick-ish wedges) to cook slowly in olive oil with a few flakes of dried chilli. Then, shredding the cabbage, again not into thin strands but wide-ish strips, and dunking it into blanch with the potato for a few minutes. Then all of the potatoes and cabbage got taken out with a slotted spoon and added to the garlic to slowly absorb the flavours, the potato becoming slightly crushed in the process, while (lazy me) I cooked the spaghetti in the same pan of already-boiling water.

By the time the spaghetti was al dente, the cabbage and potato were delicious, nearly caramelising around a few edges, and then all that was needed was to add a quarter of a pyramidal creamy goat's cheese crumbled into the mix, adding the spaghetti tossed with a little more olive oil, and letting it all warm and melt together before tipping it out onto a plate, covering with plenty of black pepper and tucking in. Yum. I ate it all before it occurred to me to photograph it, but it's a surprisingly attractive dish too in a homely way, the bright green cabbage strips intertwined with the spaghetti and the knobs of potato and oozing cheese adding variety and texture.

posted at 10:31 PM  1 comments
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