Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Rum and French

25 September

Abandoning builders, teenagers and dog, this weekend I went to Paris where a heat wave was in progress. Didn't stop us eating or walking miles, however. On the first night we sat outside Le Voltaire near the Musee D'Orsay, gazing at the Seine as a perfect moon rose and slowly descended behind Ile de la Cite. Across the river  a lone light shone in the attics of the Louvre. Does someone live up there?  And how scary that must be at night, with Louis XIV, or even hoardes of  revolutionaries patrolling the corridors. Apparently a race used to take place each year  from one end of  the Louvre's upper floors  - all 1.5km of them - to the other. It became a much feted film.
Le Voltaire is old-fashioned Paris restaurant -  dark brown inside, low-lit with tiny booths, delicious food. A constant stream of chic Parisians arrived and departed as we ate a perfect souffle of turbot followed by tarte au prune  outside in the gloaming. The next night it was dinner in an
apartment high above the Quai D'Orsay. Walls lined with mirrors reflected the lights of the traffic roaring past below and floor to ceiling shelves were stuffed with Roman antiquities. Supper of  paella  was followed by a dusty bottle  unearthed from a cupboard.  See if you can guess what it is, said our host. It turned out to be a bottle of 1840 rum, left behind in a cellar that had been closed up during the war. It was head-reelingly strong, not to mention eye-watering if you stuck your nose in the glass.  After we had marvelled over the 1840, our host produced another bottle from the cupboard, this one ten years older. It was undrinkable. 'I have the whole case sitting in my office' the host's son told us. 'The smell is astonishing. By the end of the day I feel quite drunk...'

Arriving back to London several pounds heavier, I answer the door bell to a bloke who dumps a vast box of veg on the doorstep. 'Is it heavy?' I ask. 'Yes' he says, as he slopes off back to his van. Brawny builders have  knocked off for lunch which they take on the highest reaches of the scaffolding, balanced like crows on the top of a spindly tree, well out of ear-shot of the screeching householder.  I unpack my box in the doorway, therefore,  cursing and swearing and making frequent trips to the fridge. When I get to the bottom, a note tells me that 'this box has been delivered to you by our friendly and helpful couriers'. For anyone interested, it comes from 5 a day box Ltd ( and contains  (amongst other items) three different types and colours of cauliflowers, loads of squashes, spuds, kale, a ton of tomatoes, peppers and beetroot.

I turned one of the cauliflowers into a pasta dish with saffron and tomato cream sauce, discovered in  Leith's Vegetarian Bible (Bloomsbury) and adapted slightly to suit some missing ingredients

olive oil
one cauliflower, broken into florets
a couple of cloves of garlic, finley chopped
tomato paste
pinch of saffron strands, soaked in 2fl oz warm water
450g pasta, preferably small, or shell-shaped
5 tomatoes, roughly chopped
2tblsp cream
fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil  (roughly 3-4 tblsp) in a pan and cook the cauliflower florets over a medium heat for 5mins. Add the garlic (and some chili if you want a bit of spice) and cook for a further minute. Mix the tomato paste with a little water and stir it into the cauliflower. Cover and cook over a low heat for 15mins. Cook the pasta until al dente. Add the saffron and its liquid and the tomatoes to the  cauliflower, season, increase the heat slightly and continue to cook until the cauliflower is soft. Stir in the cream (a lack of cream, discovered at the last moment, meant I used coconut milk instead) and the parsley. Drain the pasta and stir into the sauce. Serve sprinkled over with parmesan.

plum awful...
Opening up a jar of the homemade plum jam (see previous post), I discover that I've actually made plum Turkish Delight. It's so hard the knife bends when you try to spread a bit on a piece of toast. I could cut it into squares, dust them with icing sugar and give it to someone for Christmas. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Tuesday 17 September

The Box of Meat from Keevil&Keevil, Smithfield butchers, has already provided the wherewithal for roast duck, and pork chops with apples, leeks and onions and a blast of cider (chop an onion and an apple and a leek which I happened to have, but you don't need and a clove or two of garlic if you like; fry the pork chops in a frying pan until brown, set aside, fry the onion in oil, add the apple, leek and garlic, blast with a slug of cider and boil furiously for about a minute. Add some stock/ plus a little cream if you're feeling extravagant and cook for a minute or two. Put the chops in an oven-proof  dish pour over the apple and onion sauce and  put in a pre-heated (170/180c)  for 25-30mins until the chops are cooked. Eat with mash).
Tonight it's given us  shepherds pie (recipe below) made in honour of the return, for one night, of the  ex-lodger and the departure of the son back to university. The twenty-somethings sit about the table swapping hilarious stories about their respective up-bringings, the texting abilities of mothers (why do mothers always seem to  txt in CAP LETTERS, apparently there's a whole website devoted to this - GARDEN CENTRE OK DON'T FORGET SUPPER PICK UP CLOTHES MUM or  ITS ME IS KEY IN SHED WHEN YOU GOING MUM) and the  note (also in CAPS but not written by a mother), retrieved from doormat which reads:
have passed that on to the resident  builders.

Shepherds pie
feeds 4
500g beef mince
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
a little flour
Lea & Perrins  sauce
2-3 carrots, chopped
handful fresh parsley, chopped
4-5 largeish potatoes, boiled and mashed

Preheat the oven to 180c.  Heat some olive oil in a large pan. Add the mince, fry for ten minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue to fry. Sprinkle over a little flour and add a dash or two of Lea & Perrins. Stir and add the wine and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the stock until you have a nice soupy stewy, but not too watery, consistency. Add the carrots and two-thirds of the  parsley and cook for another 10 minutes or so, adding more stock if necessary. Put the mince into an oven proof dish, sprinkle over the rest of the parsley and top with the mashed potato. Cook for 40 minutes or until the top is brown and crispy

what's in the post today...

A brilliant autobiographical duo or the beginnings of a  celeb big brother wish list  - Is it really Too Much to Ask?  by Jeremy Clarkson (from Milliband to the volcanic ash cloud via the Olympics, man flu and Piers Morgan. Yes, it is too much. Michael Joseph £20) and Mary Berry's Recipe for Life (childhood, family life, career path, fame - 'To My astonishment and considerable relief, the editor of Housewife seemed pleased with my article' notes Berry on p113. Much more of the same follows until the moment when Great British Bake Off wins a BAFTA. 'I was too stunned to move' Berry tells us.  Michael Joseph £20)

a jar of chorizo jam, a 'cult condiment' made with air dried chorizo, balsamic vinegar, apple juice and brown sugar (£3.49 from Tesco)

PR news
1.  a study undertaken by Sacla reveals that:

Italian mothers in university cities across the UK open up their own homes to teach students the basics of nutritious cooking to get them through their studies

  57% of the British students surveyed admitted that they do not know how to cook vegetables, with half (50%) unsure of how to make mashed potato, and 49% unable to slice a pepper.  Three quarters (75%) confessed that they couldn’t roast a chicken whilst eight in ten (80%) were clueless on how to make a white sauce and 45% were left scratching their heads when asked how to make spaghetti bolognese.
Four in ten university students (40%) consider their diet to be unhealthy, while a third (33%) are spending over £25 per week on booze, leading a quarter (26%) to believe that their lifestyle  is having an adverse effect on their grades.

2. The Special Sing-a-longa Afternoon Tea at the Marriott Hotel County Hall.  Tea, sandwiches, scones and cake, plus song sheets and a chance to perform included in the price - £38 pp 
Available  Mondays in October: 7th at 4pm, 14th & 21st October at 5pm in the Library
Telephone 020 7902 8000 to make a reservation

3. Brogdale apple festival 19-20 October at the National Fruit Collection
After discovering a favourite apple, visitors can  take home a tree grafting from the collection.

Brogdale Farm Brogdale Road Faversham Kent ME13 8XZ
T 01795 536250 F 01795 534860 E


Friday, 13 September 2013

lucky food writers

Lucky food writers - and I am one of them - have what seems to be an inexhaustible supply of new products to try, new restaurants to visit, new cookbooks with which to experiment. Most of it (barring the restaurants, of course) turns up on the doorstep; not all of it can fit into the column I write each week. But, it seemed to me, my daily quota of stuff that arrives in the post (and what we do with it) might be of interest to a wider audience keen to find out what's currently  new/ successful/ plain ridiculous in the world of food. 
Friday 13 seemed as good a day as any to start: it's wet, we've got builders in (who don't build in wet weather but are here anyway. Why?) and the doorbell has been ringing, causing the dog to have hysterics each time it happens, all day long

Friday September  13, 2013
In the kitchen my daughter is cooking lunch,  a litter of pans building up beside the sink. ‘The thing you always say when I make something out of Gwyneth Paltrow’s book’ notes my daughter, ‘is the trouble with Gwynnie is the number of pans she uses… it’s because she’s got staff …’ 
On this occasion, however, the number of pans has doubled as my daughter has taken GP’s healthy recipe for brown rice with greens and turned it into something less healthy but doubly delicious

Fried brown rice with kale, pak choi, egg, ginger and prawns (with a nod to It's All Good by GP, Sphere) using 4 pans and a wok and  chopping board that won't go into the dishwasher
feeds 3
8oz brown rice
5 stems of tenderstem broccoli, finely chopped
small bunch of kale, shredded
half a leek, shredded
2 eggs, whisked
10 king pawns
soy sauce
sesame oil
1 pak choi, chopped
2 clove of garlic, crushed
1 piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

Boil the rice until just done, according to packet instructions. Steam the broccoli, kale and leek over a pan of boiling water for about 7 mins. Heat some sesame oil in a wok and add the rice. Stir to coat. Stir in the beaten egg and prawns, for 2-3mins, add the steamed vegetables. Leave to stand while you fry the pak choi in sesame oil with the garlic and ginger (2mins). Serve the rice in a bowl adorned with the pak choi and sprinkled with soy sauce

Last night I picked loads of plums off the tree in the garden. Saved the best looking ones to eat raw and made jam out of the rest
2lbs of plums, halved, stones, maggots and so on removed
2 lbs of sugar
kernels from half the plum stones

I left the plums in the sugar overnight (don’t use a metal pan).  This morning, I  put the plums plus sugar over a low heat, brought to the boil and boiled for 20mins. When setting point was reached, I added the kernels and rested for 10mins. Bottled the result in sterilized, pre-warmed jars

New books that came in the post today

Simon Hopkinson Cooks, Ebury Press £25 (out 19 Sept)
Accompanies the More 4 programme. Restaurant food cooked at home. Recipes notable for their straightforward style

The Illustrated Country year by Celia Lewis Bloomsbury  £20
Illustrated (by the artist author) guide to the months – wild life, nature notes, folklore, foraging opportunities, craft projects (how to make a driftwood lamp eg) and recipes 

Saturday Kitchen Cooking Bible, Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20 (out 26 Sept)
200 recipes from the weekend food programme provided by the guest chefs (eg Nathan Outlaw, Rick Stein, Richard Bertinet) divided into 30-minute meals, weekend lunch, salads, family feasts and so on

food that came in the post today

Butchers box of meat from Smithfields, including venison, steak, duck breasts, sausages (Keevil & Keevil Butcher’s Boxes,
Le Parfait starter preserving kit: 3 kilner jars, an empty box (fill one of the kilner jars, put it in box and give to someone as a present), labels and recipes (£15.99,
Tiana organic coconut water in a tin, plus jar of  organic omega 3 coconut oil butter - newest superfood (

News from the food front

Marco Cuervo, chef at Lupita East, and supporter of authentic food supplier, shares with us his family recipe of Chiles en Nogada, the dish to eat for Mexican Independence Day celebrations.

Crystal Head Vodka, £67.95, from
Don’t be tricked by poorly-carved pumpkins and threadbare broomsticks this Halloween. Instead indulge in the ultimate treat – Crystal Head Vodka from

Rutland-based baker, Julian Carter, has taken the top "Baker of the Year" award at the Bakery Industry Awards – the industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.
 The last 12 months have been exciting for Julian.  Hambleton Bakery, of which he is co-founder and head baker, was voted "Britain's best Bakery" in the ITV show of that name screened last December.